Christian Hoff: From Surfer Boy To Jersey Boy

The real Tommy DeVito hadn't seen Hoff's portrayal until shortly after opening night. The only contact he had with him up until then was their phone conversation. Christian was reassured by the likes of Bob Gaudio and Joe Pesci on opening night however when both told him he had Tommy down to a "T". "They all had the look on their face like they had seen a ghost. Seeing your life up there in the dynamics of a group like this…it is exhilarating and also pretty painful. I mean these guys have balls…it's pretty courageous to have your stories told in this fashion."

The creative team had a pretty good taste of what was in store for them having had a successful tryout in San Diego prior to New York City. Hoff's portrayal of Tommy did change a bit from the West Coast production and he also had a new cast member to build a relationship with. John Lloyd Young took over for David Norońa as Frankie Valli.

"Even though we had a very successful run out there…we started fresh when we came here. We had a winning book, a great idea about what we were going to do… We started from scratch again - with the research and marinating in the era, their upbringing…who they were as individuals and then we got into their relationship. It was really about who these guys are and were.  We had a wonderful rehearsal process…we had time to get to know one another and got to know one another's characters. I think I am playing Tommy stronger here in New York. I think it is clearer. The writing is clarified. My idea of who the guy is has been able to evolve to get more clear-cut. I ended up being local too. I'm living in Jersey. Also meeting and getting to know (and becoming friends) with Tommy DeVito gives me a big perspective. So it's pretty much the same as in California – it's just turned up a notch."

The show is divided into four sections – season – with each band member giving their views in context to the show as a whole. Hoff, as Tommy, is the first season and has the responsibility of breaking in the audience and setting the tone of the show. As it happens, this is one of his favorite moments in the show. "When I first come out in the opening number … it is like returning the kickoff. I want to make that run because once spring starts … it's my season. If that kickoff is not returned you do not have that momentum then we are going to be chugging to get it back. I love that responsibility and the fact that the first thing I do is address the audience. I mean come on, that is a dream come true. I mean the first time I went on stage when I was eight years old it was about that relationship with the audience and realizing that the chemistry is the best of any relationship with any person times how many people there are in the audience. So times that by 1200 everyday….that is an experience. That is my first favorite moment is telling the story, getting the story going. " 

As thrilling as it is for him, it's also challenging. "It takes a lot of focus. A lot of energy to just get the ball rolling. It's the most joyful but also the most difficult. I also love when I come back at the end for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame scene and I rise out of the stage. I'm looking at the audience and I see these beaming faces that have been through the story, the loss, the joy, and the sacrifice and the sheer ride of the music. Who knew they were going to get a four-course meal…and here comes the dessert! To come back out and have the reuniting of the Four Seasons there at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – such a milestone in their careers. It had been twenty years since they had been on the same stage together. It was a magical day then … one that they look back on and say that really happened. It was kind of like a dream. And that is kind of like how we play it. It is kind of like a twilight zone."

Christian also loves playing such a three-dimensional character. It's not a question of being a "good guy" or "bad guy."

"To classify him as a good or bad guy is selling one or the other short. There is a story here and people always make decisions. He is definitely heavy. I am blessed for a character within the story line that is at the center of all that conflict. That is kind of what made them popular to begin with. To look and say…what made these guys get noticed out of the neighborhood when groups were a dime a dozen? It was their relationships and it was Tommy's energy and putting himself on the line every single time. Also, their routines had a touch of vaudeville and were very funny. They had comedy sketches in the Four Seasons when they were coming up. When they hit and they became a pop band no one ever knew that these guys had that whole other aspect to their act. People didn't realize until they saw them live that these guys were a bunch of characters. They grew up in show biz. Being from where they were they always had a finger on the Broadway beat, on stand up comedy and on people who brought all their talents to the table. That is something you don't know about when you are listening to the record. You don't realize that these guys came up from that. To hear Franki, Tommy, and Bob talk about it they have had opportunities to do films, TV, and TV movies about their story and they always have kind of held out. They held out for a Broadway show. They knew that's where their story was going to be realized, on stage in 3-D, with the music, with the energy of a live performance - everything that made them who they are today. They certainly paid their dues too. Having their story told on the Broadway stage - they are on cloud nine. To be able to tell the story the way we are doing is what they wanted all along and I think it has brought them together.

Playing such a complex character as DeVito, who had his share of successes and failures, it would be hard for an actor to not take something away personally. "At this time in my life it has been pretty cool because I am in the middle of a custody battle for my kids. Where there is a lot of 'he said she said' stuff going on and a lot of misrepresentation; a lot of individual perspective on one situation with the legal aspects and the emotional and personal aspects of it. That is kind of grounding me in my performance and my performance is grounding me in my real life. Based on that… on the sacrifices we talk about in the show…a sacrifice of a normal life and family life as you would have it or some others would have it. A lot of that is not possible. That is sort of the parallel in my real life - the sacrifice of fame and the need to commit. One of the characters (Mary Delgado) in the show, says, 'your family is bullshit…your family is out there on the road.'  This is also my family now too and doing this eight times a week is a big commitment both emotionally and physically, and creatively. It just takes up a lot of time. The amount of hours that I have had to put into this … it takes away from your real life so there are sacrifices that are parallel that will strengthen my real life and the sacrifices strengthen my commitment to the show too. They weight each other. You don't always have the opportunity to perform in a show like this, a successful show and say that my real life is just as exciting or just as challenging or just as difficult. But I can see that now and it had given me a sense of maturity in my own life; that I can apply and I can vent a little bit on stage.

You can catch Christian Hoff in Jersey Boys at the August Wilson Theatre or online at http://www.christianhoff.com.

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Craig Brockman Craig Brockman and independent video editor and producer in the entertainment industry and has served as both Senior Editor and Multimedia Director for BroadwayWorldand. He is also the owner of InfiniteCreativity.com - a multimedia, promotions and public relations company that services the entertainment industry. In addition to his work in the industry, Craig has a successful career in Marketing and Public Relations within IT. Click for more information about www.infinitecreativity.com and a full site/client list.