VT Voices: Q&A With Christian Hoff

Christian Hoff is a TONY AWARD® Winning actor and singer, best known for his roles in Broadway’s The Who’s Tommy and Jersey Boys. Christian resides in Manchester, Vermont, with his family. His newest venture? Radio host of 102.7 WEQX’s brand new specialty show, Jazz ‘n TÖST.


INTERVIEW BY JOSHUA SHERMAN, M.D.

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY CHRISTIAN HOFF


Sherman: Thanks for joining me, Christian. Let’s start with the basics. Where were you born?


Hoff: Berkeley, California. 1968. Sherman: Tell me about your parents. Were they involved in the arts?

Hoff: They both were very artistic. My dad was a hairdresser by trade, but he was multi-talented. He could build furniture, make music, draw, and paint.


Sherman: Your parents identified your talent at a young age and got you involved in theater, commercials, and television. Let’s talk about that. What was your very first audition like?


Hoff: My first theatre audition? I stepped into a room of 200 other showbiz kids. I didn’t know I was one of them yet, but I think my parents perhaps did. I stepped in front of this crowd with a ukulele in hand and sang “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.” The rest is history.


Sherman (laughing): And what was your first commercial?


Hoff: It was a Hi-C commercial. I was singing and dancing on a playground.


Sherman: Do you remember the words to the jingle?


Hoff (singing without any hesitation): “We love Hi-C, ‘cause it’s got vitamin C, and it’s great taste is the only one for me. When the gang’s all together, oh, how I love Hi-C!”


Sherman: I love it! You were also the original voice of Richie Rich in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Can you tell me about that experience?


Hoff: It was just great walking down those halls as the only kid in the entire studio. To my left, they were making Scooby Doo. To my right, they were making The Jetsons. I would go into a studio, and I’d be sitting in a room with Frank Welker. Any fan of Saturday morning cartoons will know that Frank did the voice work for Scooby Doo, Dollar, Dynomutt – you name it! He would break into those characters in the middle of our takes just to throw me off and keep me smiling throughout our recording sessions. That was such a fun insight. It was my first view into just how surreal and wonderful being an artist could be.


Sherman: I know you told me that you did the cartoon voiceover work until your voice changed. How long did you get to voice Richie Rich - and what was it like when you were told that you would no longer be able to continue in the role?

Hanna-Barbera’s Richie Rich

Hoff: It wasn’t surprising to me. I did it for about a year-and-a-half, maybe two years. We had banked a lot of episodes already by the time I finished up there. It taught me that there were going to be transitions and seasons in a career that I expected was going to be a lifelong venture. It got me tuned in to the fact that change was inevitable and that the ability to roll with it and redefine myself was a prerequisite for success. I think that’s true in life.


Sherman: You had some success in your teen years, but you didn’t have a breakout moment. Still, you decided to pursue a career in the arts despite that. That takes courage, desire, and ambition. Did you continue to go to school while you were pursuing your career?


Hoff: I was in an arts program from the time I was eight years old to when I graduated from high school. It was called The School of Creative and Performing Arts in San Diego. I was in an environment where mentorship was key. I constantly had professionals help me and guide me through everyday real life, learning how to be a real person and an artist at the same time. If you can learn how to manage that balancing act in middle school and high school, life is a piece of cake.

The Who’s Tommy on Broadway

Sherman: Mentorship is incredibly important. Can you tell me about the mentors that helped you get to where you are today?


Hoff: I had several key mentors in my life: Don and Bonnie Ward and Ole Kittleson. They were the ones who told me, “Yes, you can— and you will,” when I was afraid of doing a time step. They were the ones who taught me about the craft and discipline of the theatre and how that translates into your formation as a person. There was a sense of mutual respect and responsibility that came with working with a team. Stepping into the spotlight and leading, but not doing it independently of the team around you. I found many parallels with sports, as well. It was very important not only in my formation, but all the way through my Broadway career and my current career. It’s all about collaboration and cooperation.


Sherman: Let’s talk about the transition from your teenage years to your Broadway career. The Who’s Tommy was a big show. It won a GRAMMY® with its platinum-selling cast album, and it brought rock back to Broadway. Tell me about your audition for that show.

The Playbill for Broadway’s Jersey Boys

Hoff: I didn’t have a ukulele like I did in my first childhood audition, but I had a guitar. I walked into the room at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles. I saw Des McAnuff, Pete Townshend, Wayne Cilento, and the entire creative team. I sang “The Long and Winding Road” and “Get Back” by The Beatles in a medley. I turned heads, and I established myself as a contender.

Christian as Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys

Sherman: What was the process like when you were working with them on the show at the La Jolla Playhouse and then on Broadway?


Hoff: We had projections. We had articulated stages. We had pyrotechnics. We had a new way of storytelling. That process took a lot of creative collaboration. The automated Broadway that we know now came to be through The Who’s Tommy.


Sherman: Did you receive any advice from the creators or producers of The Who’s Tommy that stuck with you over the course of your career?


Hoff: One night in New York City, the cast of The Who’s Tommy was being wined and dined by the fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger. Hilfiger, Pete Townshend, and I were together in a booth, and Hilfiger started talking business with Pete Townshend. Pete put his arm around Tommy Hilfiger, and he said, “Save it for the morning, Darling.”


Sherman: There’s a time and a place for everything.


Hoff: Exactly.


Sherman: Let’s talk about your next show with Des McAnuff, who was the director of both The Who’s Tommy and Jersey Boys. How did you first get involved with Jersey Boys? Was it a call from Des?


Hoff: Yes. It was a call from Des. He said, “We’re in LA. We need to see you. We’re working on a new production.” I said, “When?” He said, “Now. We’re leaving for New York this evening on the red eye.” I picked up my 1959 Gibson LG-1 guitar and my two kids, and off we went. I sang an Eddie Cochran tune on guitar accompanying myself. Des stopped me, came up to me, put his arm around me and said, “What are you doing in two months?” That was Des McAnuff’s intro to a show that had no script yet and was yet to be realized, but he knew that he wanted me to be a part of it.


Christian on TONY® Night

Sherman: Jersey Boys also started at the La Jolla Playhouse before moving to Broadway. Were there any major changes between its first go-around at La Jolla and the Broadway production?


Hoff: Just like The Who’s Tommy, the transition to Broadway was seamless. Very little design changes. It was nearly done.


Sherman: What was it like meeting The Four Seasons and having them in the room with you?


Hoff: Frankie Valli didn’t come until the show was mounted. With Tommy DeVito and Bob Gaudio, it was the same thing. They didn’t see the show until it was up and running. The first time that they saw it, it was a full-fledged production. They said it was like seeing a ghost right before their eyes, because we embodied not only who they were, but the era, the story, the struggles, the challenges, and the

triumphs.


Sherman: Part of the fun of doing a Broadway show is meeting celebrities when they visit backstage after the show. Any favorite memories?


Hoff: I’ll never forget when Diana Ross came backstage. Getting a hug from Diana Ross was transcendent. Coming down the stairs and having Robin Williams, literally, bow before me— or when Steve Martin said, “I could never have done what you just did” was surreal. Similar to winning the TONY AWARD, it was wonderful validation that I had done something that my peers truly respected.


Sherman: After Jersey Boys, you spent the next decade creating an incredible group called, “The Midtown Men”, and you traveled the world performing the music of the 1960s. What was it like singing such iconic music internationally?


The cover of The Midtown Men’s First Album

Hoff: It was amazing! It didn’t matter where they were from, what language they spoke, or how old they were, we were able to connect through the music and bring our worlds together. It was a wonderful experience.


Sherman: Your career has taken you all around the world. Why did you choose to settle here in Vermont?


Hoff: I love the independent spirit of Vermont. The lack of billboards. A culture that embraces a local economy. Vermont is home to many people who are hardworking and independent, who live off the land and don’t need outside influence to define their identity. I love the challenge of an environment of great beauty and sacrifice and hard work.


Christian in Concert

Sherman: Your newest venture here in Vermont is something that you and I are working on together. Jazz ‘n TÖST is a new show on an independent radio station here in Southern Vermont, 102.7 WEQX and is sponsored by TÖST Beverages. Tell me about your love of jazz.


Hoff: My dad’s favorite type of music was jazz. We always had great records to listen to, from Pete Fountain to Ahmad Jamal, and everything in between. Even when the music is without lyrics, jazz is expressive storytelling.


Sherman: It’s been fascinating to work on this show with you, because when you immerse yourself in the genre, you realize that jazz encompasses so many different styles and influences.


Hoff: Jazz is a melting pot of talent and expression.


Sherman: You’ve got some upcoming concerts and tour dates outside of Vermont. Do you think we’ll be seeing you performing live here in Vermont anytime soon?


Hoff: 100%. I can’t help but perform. Now that we can start enjoying live concerts and productions again safely, I look forward to developing an audience for my live performances here in Vermont. Until then, you can catch me and Jazz ‘n TÖST every Sunday morning on WEQX 102.7.


jazzntost.com
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