When a cabaret show is promoted as containing "an eclectic mix of style and sound," I generally don't expect to hear 8, count 'em 8, Rodgers and Hart classics, but who am I to question Christian Hoff's good taste in music? Though never officially announced, Hoff was to star in a proposed Broadway revival of Pal Joey, and though that project has been placed on hold, his one-night gig at The Metropolitan Room this past Monday night, titled "Exiled," often seemed like a preview of how he'd play the title role.
The stage was nearly as packed as the sold-out house, with the Tony-winning Jersey Boys star joined by music director/arranger Charles Czarnecki at piano, Craig Magnano at guitar, Ryan Berg at acoustic bass, Jon Davis on drums and Emily Fletcher and Stephanie Gibson singing backup vocals. From the opening strains of Rodgers and Hart's "With A Song In My Heart," which was medlied with "I've Got The World on a String" (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler) and "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" (Sammy Fain/Paul Francis Webster), the atmosphere of the evening emulated supper club nostalgia with Czarnecki 's jazz and swing arrangements of other R&H standards ("Lover" "Where or When" "This Can't Be Love" "Thou Swell" "I Could Write a Book") and a snazzy rumba version of "Stranger In Paradise" (Robert Wright/George Forrest), sung by Hoff with a crooner's panache, displaying heaps of moxie and working-class-in-a-tux sex appeal.
In a rare quiet moment, Hoff accompanied himself on guitar for Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry," but most of the show had the star kicking back and having fun with selections like Jesse Stone's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," John Mayer's "Message In a Bottle," and another Rodgers and Hart, "My Romance," performed with a heavy rock and roll backbeat.
While the music sounded great and Hoff's confident charm was enjoyable to watch, the evening just wasn't fully prepared. Not for an audience paying normal cabaret prices. Hoff not only performed the entire program with a stand holding all of his music directly in front of him (and even so he seemed to be struggling with his lyrics from time to time) but he also appeared to be reading his between-song patter from written notes. There was little in the way of interpreting songs through lyrics and dynamics, and though the material may have been eclectic, the tone of the upbeat evening lacked variety. And there were too many times when Hoff, Fletcher and Gibson's vocal harmonies struggled with pitch and blend.
Christian Hoff is a talented guy and despite the show's flaws I did have a fun time. With more attention to details and the savvy to work the intimacy of a space like The Metropolitan Room, I'd look forward to seeing him take the cabaret stage again.
Posted on January 19, 2008 - by
About the Author: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.