Christian Hoff: From Surfer Boy To Jersey Boy
Sporting a thick Italian Jersey accent on stage each night as Tommy DeVito in "Jersey Boys," it may surprise people to learn that Christian Hoff grew up thousands of miles away in
"I was born in
Hoff began his theatrical career at the San Diego Junior Theatre when he was eight years old. "It was that or playing soccer one summer. My mom said, maybe you should give that a shot and I said, all right. So I tried it, got the bug immediately. Everyone knew that it was something I was shinning at; that I must be very happy or well suited for this. It was the audience that what it was for me. It was that interaction with the audience." When asked when he realized when he wanted to pursue acting as a career, Christian replied, "It took a couple months and then I knew that it was what I wanted to do for a career. Actually, no, I knew that it was something I wanted to do for fun. When I realized you could make money at it then I realized that it was something I could do for a career that was when I was ten. Nine or ten, I did my first professional show - The Music Man, I played
After The Music Man, it was the small and large screen for Hoff. His first television appearance was opposite no other than the legendary Shirley MacLaine in one of her television specials, "Every Little Movement". "I danced ballet. I played this kid who threw my baseball through a window of a ballet school…(and they are having this ballet with all these girls and my ball comes crashing through the window and me, this little guy (with dirt on my face wearing a ball cap) looks through the window and says, 'What are you guys doing? This is for sissies.' And she (Shirley MacClaine) says, "Oh yeah, have you ever seen Wilt Chamberlain (or somebody) do a hook shot?' I said, 'yeah.' She says, 'Show me.' I said 'Easy,' so I am doing that and they go into this montage - this whole dream like sequence of her and I dancing to ballet on this stage with the lights and the costumes. Iit was this beautiful sequence and she is turning me, and she is picking me up."
At 10 years old, Hoff didn't know at the time who MacLaine was (his parents explained that she was an actress), but immediately he was drawn to her presence. "The minute I met her there was that energy and that love. The first time we were rehearsing this thing, she showed up, no makeup and her hair was curly and frizzy. She had an apple in one hand and her bag of granola or trail mix in the other and she was so loving, so warm, and she encouraged me so much. She said 'you really have a gift and the fact that you are just a regular kid and have that gift…that is what you are going to take with you.' I said, oh yeah sure and whatever. But, I will never forget that experience of rehearsing with her because we rehearsed for that special for a week and learned all of our dance routines and everything. When we got to finally performing together she was just amazing… and she sang… to me - the energy coming out of her and that sparkle in her eye. The love she had for performing was so evident then. I see it in her films now …she really should get back on the stage.
Hoff, now clearly bitten by the acting bug attended the
Hoff's Broadway debut came under the direction of Des McAnuff – the very same who directed Jersey Boys. Auditioning for 'TOMMY' was through an open call. "I auditioned…like every other guy. I go down there and I guess they just knew I was this 'regular guy.' It was this big dance call and I am there in jeans and they crank this music and Wayne Cilento, the choreographer, said 'I saw you because the minute I turned the music on you started moving, before it was even time for you to do the routine, you were just moving.' I was in the back of the room so it must have made an impression on him.
Although he had little idea of what the show was about, Hoff was a big The Who fan – so this project was something that excited him tremendously despite some reservations as to whether or not he'd be good enough for it.
"But I was dancing and doing everything! He taught me a few things and he said 'the minute I saw you I knew I wanted you in the show.' When I did the show in
Jersey Boys puts Des back into his element according to Hoff. "Des told us then and has the same attitude now, he is kind of back in the zone with a show that matches musically his vision for story-telling and design and that has the heart and soul all ready. He told us when we did TOMMY that the audience is your enemy, defeat them. People have an idea what Jersey Boys is going to be because everyone has invested in it. The music is in the fabric of our lives. From commercials, to movies, to radio, to three decades of pop music…one hundred and seventy five million records -even the kids know this music and they don't even know that they know it."
Both TOMMY and Jersey Boys have seamless transitions. The acts in both shows go from scene to scene without blackouts but rather on stage scene transitions. "For us, the performers, it is exhausting but at the same time it is sort of like starting an engine. The most work an engine has is starting itself. Right? It is the same thing with mileage. Unless you are on the brakes or on the gas –you're going to get better mileage with the continuous flow. So as a performer, as an actor…we get to go along for the ride. Once we get that gust of wind in our sails … we're sailing. Certainly, with the audience interaction during the show we are continuously stoking the fire with their investment in our story – regardless of what they brought into the theatre (which hopefully within the first few minutes we have managed to put a few jabs in there) There's about forty-five minutes into the show before there's even a Four Seasons tune and that is surprising to a lot of people. Just like in the second act…we've got a twenty-minute book scene in the middle of the act…and it is a musical…that is unheard of."
In both of Des's shows, Christian has taken on the role as the "bad boy" or source of conflict. "I have always identified with guys that have something going on. People have always identified me with that too even when I have always tried to be "Mr. Nice Guy." It never quite works. In school I was, 'oh he acts nice or he is a real gentleman but he is probably kind of an asshole and stuck up or he thinks he is hot shit because he is doing TV and Film…or because he was in Evita…oh wow!' But I kind of like that duality. I like being that regular guy. I like being able to go surfing and to go to the skate park and just be myself. Even at my school I had regular friends. And I come from a normal family."
Clearly Hoff made an impression on Des – the call for Jersey Boys was a full 12 years later since the two had worked together. "It kind of came out of nowhere. Des called me after trying to get a hold of me. It was his last day in
So how does a
In fact, playing Tommy DeVito, for Christian, is a dream come true. Unlike previous roles he has had, this one had an abundance of research already at his fingertips. "We've got an autobiography, a perspective from my character. We've got accounts from Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio and the late Nick Massi. Also from roadies, road managers, press, wives, ex-wives, girlfriends. We've got so many people that are giving us perspectives on who we are, that it is actually more information that we could handle at times (because we have got literally seventeen different versions of who we are!) So what they have done with the show is put all of those things into perspective and have given us a pretty good, deep look into who these guys are."