BWW Interviews: Tony Award Winner CHRISTIAN HOFF on THE MIDTOWN MEN, JERSEY BOYS, VINEYARDS and More!
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me and BroadwayWorld today!
It's my pleasure. Thank you for the support. We appreciate it so much.
Congrats on your newly found success with the stellar male group - The Midtown Men. Tell me a little bit about this group?
I think this is the first time that any group of actors from a Broadway show have taken their relationship and their history with the show to something that is as concrete as this. To take it to a level and really spin off an act, I mean people have done it since we've done it from regional productions, and certainly we have a great example of Broadway greats and even contemporaries that do this. From the Broadway cruises to wonderful concerts from Idina Menzel to Kristin Chenoweth, to Brian Stokes Mitchell; and so many of these folks that go out there and do these concerts. To really take a stab at creating a brand, if you will, or an entity that exists, that takes commitment like this. We are having to really think of ourselves as a group or a band instead of individual actors. So you go from four guys who are usually competing in the hallway to competing for the spotlight... on tour. (laughs) It's an interesting energy that we have. Its cohesion, it's wonderment, but at the same time there is the element of surprise, and for us, there's an intensity that comes out in the form of chemistry on stage. Much like, or not unlike, a Rat Pack. A reincarnated Rat Pack. Where you have guys whose sense of humor and whose personalities and talents are colliding at one time and uniting at the same time.
I'm not surprised that the four of you are back together. You complimented each other so well in Jersey Boys that it's not surprising that something like this would come out of that. (Now whose genius idea was it to get the four of you back together and create this awesome group?)
You're right. You got to ask yourself, "Why not continue it?" Not only is it exciting vocally with all of that great sound, it's, almost, to quote a line from Jersey Boys, it's too good to be true, because you pick these personalities that we were, we were sort of hand-picked. Even Michael, who didn't originate Frankie Valli; he originated Joe Pesci. Joe Pesci was the guy who put The Four Seasons together in the first place. And Joe whom I know and am friends with, he wanted so desperately to be the fifth Season. He speaks candidly about that, "None of this would have happened without me." He said on the Tony Awards the night we won best musical. Joe Pesci says none of this would have happened without him. (laughter) So now Michael comes in, who also doubled the voice of Frankie Valli every night in the show, but he also ended up making Broadway history the day he performed both the role of Joe Pesci and Frankie Valli in the same show. Exact same performance. So from then on, he was not only capable of taking on the role of Frankie Valli, which he did, but he was also brave enough to unite with us and say, "I want to be your fourth Season." So we started performing together outside the show while we were all still doing Jersey Boys, for charities, and galas, and privates. Then we got back together after we had all gone off to do other things. Michael went to go do a Cirque de Soleil show. I went to do Pal Joey for a few days and that didn't pan out great. Bobby had great success with Next To Normal. Daniel went on to star in Candide with the New York City Opera. Then we all said, well, we've got a couple opportunities so let's get back together, and we did it. Then we realized, wait a minute, these opportunities, every time we do one they grow, like rabbits. All of a sudden we were getting two, three, four offers in a month. Then that became fifteen, and then we were like, wow this is for real. We put the group together, officially, and started an llc, you know, got lawyers, and agents, and insurance, and health insurance, and we got sponsored by Hugo Boss. We just started creating this thing on our own and now here we are starting our fourth year on tour with major national symphonies. We are putting together a live concert to be filmed and we are working on selling that now. We get to kind of just do what we do. That's not only perform on stage but produce a show ourselves.
How has it been received?
Well that's really interesting. It's, not to sound corny, but it's ultimately not about us, it's all about the audience. As entertainers we know that we wouldn't exist, either from show to show, or in our lively hoods without connecting to the audience and to the material. In this case, our material is our own perspectives on the business and life and this great decade of music. But it's also about connecting back to the audience and using the audience as basically a part of our act. We've honed that and grown that in a way that allows us to be affected by the audience as well. We've given ourselves over to this decade of music and the audience and their own experiences, not unlike what we created in Jersey Boys. But instead of playing four other characters we play our own characters. And characters indeed. We are absolutely a unique blend of diversity, of talent, and personality, and background, and we love that. We love showing the world how four divergent characters and personalities can come together on stage and honor, in this case, the music, the lyric, the history of every song that we do. And with that, I think, the audience instantly gets involved. They have a great respect for the way we handle the music, which is very uniquely and with a fresh approach but also with a great love for the original intent by the artist and the sound and the story behind the music. If it's a story coming out of Detroit, Motown sound, we as actors, we dug into this material weeks before we started with the Four Seasons music. We dug into the entire decade of music because it was how that music and our story of the Four Seasons was rooted. And where it came from, and what was the competition, and what was going on in our culture at the time. What new dance buzz was happening then? What new instrumentation? What new sound was coming out of Memphis, you know Stax Records down there with that funky sound, or that Tina Turner sound. What was Phil Spector doing at the time? What influence did the Beach Boys have on the Four Seasons? Which actually created a great competition. So we learned to take on the competition of the Four Seasons and in that we grew this great knowledge and ambassadorship of the music of the sixties which we take very seriously. We also love it. We take the music seriously but we don't take ourselves seriously. (laughter)
Now let's play the game of favorites -
What is one of your favorite songs that you sing in the show?
My favorite song right now is Time of the Season by The Zombies
Is there a personal favorite yet to be sung?
Usually I pick a song that I sing solo on. My perspective is very strong. If I sing solo in a song, it's a little different investment than when I am supporting one of my partners.
What is your favorite Jersey Boys song?
My favorite Jersey Boys song is Marlena! I just love songs that hit you in a place. That song has a nice catchy drum beat and a sense of humor too. It's about this girl that is a little bit on the edge that he can't have what he wants. That gets me going, like a lot of people, you want what you can't have.
Here are a couple of fun questions for you - if you were not doing theater in a parallel universe, what would you be doing?
I think I would have been a wine grower and a vintner. I'm actually planting a vineyard on my property in California. I'm plating about 220 grape vines on the property. I'm going with the Grenache. This was a wine grown out of Spain and Italy and in France. A great blending wine, it's just amazing. I'm planting a couple hundred grape vines within a couple weeks.
Besides Jersey Boys, Is there a play or musical that you absolutely adore and would perform in over and over again?
Oh, gosh.... Here's what's on my playlist right now that I'm just obsessing over. I'm really into a show called George M. about George M Cohan. I'm also obsessing over Bernadette Peters who I met when I was, or we were, looking for a costar for Pal Joey, She was being pursued hard, and it was just such an amazing time when we got to know each other. She ended up not doing Pal Joey, but she's amazing. That, I think was her first Broadway show, in 1968, Joel Grey, who I'm also a big fan of, played George M, so I have a fantasy about doing that show again. That was one of my comebacks, early in my career, I was about twenty, and it was my comeback to the stage actually. This was after The Who's Tommy. I came back to California and started a family and another career in advertising. I was working for a small advertising firm called Wise Guys (of all the names). Then I got an opportunity to do George M under the direction of a mentor of mine named Don Ward, who was the father of Kirby Ward, another great Broadway talent and tap dancer. He said, "I have a show I want you to do." Not unlike Bobby in Jersey Boys where I get a call out of the blue to just do the show. And that was an amazing show that brought me back to the stage and I'm playing George M, who's basically the man, as he was quoted, "He's the man who owns Broadway". And seeing that statue right there in Times Square and just being reminded of the grit and the spirit of what Broadway is. And how he even overcame obstacles going from a child actor into an adult actor and breaking out of Vaudeville and creating this new genre with the Broadway musical and doing it with fists. Just doing everything with a clinched fist. He took no prisoners. I love that spirit and I love Broadway so much. So if I was in a show right now that is really what I would want to do.
Is there a dream role that you have always wanted to perform in?
That would be it - George M. But if I was in a show right now it would be Steven Pasquale's role in Bridges of Madison County. Incredible!
Where is your Tony award?
Sitting on my desk in my office/music room. It sometimes lives on a shelf with some other awards I've received over the years and my gold record. And sometimes I move it over to my piano for inspiration. I have this late 1800s Boston Box Grand, this amazing old piano. Sometimes it sits there. And sometimes, like now it's in my music room office on my desk. I put it next to my globe on my desk. That's where it is right now, and when I'm not wearing it around my neck like Flava Flav.
What's next for you, any other projects in the works?
Always. I always have something in my mind brewing. I've got some writing projects, and some directing projects, and projects in development that I want to have happen. I have an amazing team of agents on both coasts and they are always coming to me with opportunities, ideas, options, so it keeps me busy. I'm forced to choose, even though I'm booked out well into 2015 with the Midtown Men. We're doing 80 to 90 shows a year, but in that I'm constantly being reminded that redefining one's self is the nature of being an actor. So even if I do a virtual redefining, it's a choice I keep making and learning to make while I am in this hit show. The hit show that is The Midtown Men, it's like Jerry Orbach said, he's quoted as saying, "Never leave a hit." And he was a great example of that. He was loyal theatre actor but also a great success on TV especially in his later years. His passion and submission to acting as a craft and a business really helped define me. You get restless as an actor and you get sort of addicted to redefining yourself that out of necessity, it's a thick skin you grow as an actor from having to go out there again and again and again and competing. So that's fun to have an option. To be in a show that you have created that you can stay in and make money in, but you still need to create that tension in your own self. You do that by developing projects, even if it's just in relationships, or having meetings or luncheons, having dinner. Trying never to eat alone. Try always reaching out to other actors or producers and directors that you've seen and remind them that you are still here. But also I appreciate what they are doing. I remember when I was on Broadway and there were so many great notes that we got backstage and there was this personal one from Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban with an orchid, and it was just that I had touched them and they were moved and they appreciated my performance. It was something that they didn't have to do but they chose to do that. People like Steve Martin and Robin Williams and Dianna Ross, are people that reach out and thank me for my performance, and I am like WHAT? I need to learn to do that. Not only really is it a great stroke to your ego but for me it's a pat on the back.
Again thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld today and I look forward to seeing you and The Midtown Men this Saturday (3/22) at Boettcher Hall of the Denver Center! If you would like tickets to this exciting show in Denver, you can order them at www.coloradosymphony.org.
For more information on The Midtown Men, check them out online at www.themidtownmen.com.