September 29, 2009

Christian Hoff Wows the Crowd in San Diego!

September 29th, 2009

Photos by Kathy Johnstone, Linda Soo Hoo & Charly O’Clarit

By Howard Tucker and Stubbleyou

In the Las Vegas production of “Jersey Boys,” verbiage was appropriately changed from “So the next time you’re in Vegas…” to “So while you’re in Vegas…”

Similarly, on September 12, 2009 – now officially known as “Christian Hoff Day” in sunny San Diego, California (yes, that Christian Hoff – who knew?) – the home-grown Tony-award winning actor/singer/dancer changed the last line of the Drifters’ (and George Benson) classic On Broadway from “and I won’t quit ’til I’m a star…” to “and I didn’t quit; now I’m a star…on Broadway.”

It was a fitting punchline to his tale of how perseverance, dedication, and guts, (with maybe a bit of talent thrown in, he modestly conceded), can lead to great things. This was one of his themes as he spent the evening inspiring today’s generation of tomorrow’s stars and their families at a benefit performance at the San Diego Junior Theater, the same institution where he himself learned to tread the boards as a “yute,” (i.e., youth) as Joe Pesci might have called him in “My Cousin Vinny.”

Christian entered the packed theater from the back, coming forward down the center aisle as the crowd went wild. Looking suave, sophisticated, and debonair in a finely-tailored black suit, he exuded the confidence of knowing he already had the audience in the palm of his hand. Audience members had “Come Together” this summer evening (a song performed in the second half of the show in honor of it being Beatles Week) from several different areas of interest: Many appeared to be involved with SDJT in one way or another, past or present, faculty or staff, participant or patron. Family and friends were in attendance as well, and of course, a bicoastal contingent of Jersey Boys fans made more than its share of noise.

Christian devoted the first half of his show to Broadway and pop standards, accompanied only by his arranger and pianist Charles “the Czar” Czarnecki. Indeed, this was a show for all ages. He opened with

Medley: “I’ve Got the World on a String”, “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”, and “With a Song in My Heart”.

What a terrific way to bridge the generation gap with the 1933 Harold Arlen/Cab Calloway song “I’ve Got the World on a String” also covered in 2007 by Michael Buble. Who of us older baby boomers can forget William Holden and Jennifer Jones as the European/Chinese doctor and American journalist on “that high and windy hill” as the beautiful Four Aces “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” played in the background? And finally, the wonderful triumph of physically challenged songstress Jane Froman (Susan Hayward) entertaining the World War II blends perfectly to show us her road wasn’t always easy, but she always had “A Song in My Heart.”

The magically perfect blend of these three songs, with “Splendored” and “Song” slightly more upbeat than the originals, set the tone of the evening as our Tony winner had the crowd, young and old, “on a string” from the start.

This Can’t Be Love/Thou Swell

Those of us who were treated to Christian’s magnificent cabaret performance “Exiled” at the Metropolitan Room in New York City in January, 2008, know how much he loves Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart. “This Can’t Be Love” is from the 1938 Rodgers & Hart musical “The Boys from Syracuse.” The lyrics joke about love being the object of a medical condition, saying “This can’t be love because I feel too well.” We older baby boomers all remember the Nat King Cole cover.

Christian performed “This Can’t be Love” so sentimentally in a medley with “Thou Swell,” a jazz tune from Rodgers & Hart, notable for its mix of old English and modern slang, as one can tell from the title. “Swell” was also recorded by Nat King Cole, but not in a medley with “Love”. The only recorded medley was done by Julie Andrews on her 1994 album “The Music of Richard Rodgers”. Christian gave a beautiful rendition; Mr. Cole and Ms. Andrews would both be proud.

Pure Imagination (Dedicated to the San Diego Junior Theatre)

Christian performed this wonderfully inspirational tune from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”, and dedicated it to the San Diego Junior Theatre. Christian told the crowd that, at nine years old, auditioning for “Mary Poppins”, instructor Bonnie Ward asked him to do a dance routine. “I can’t do that,” a disbelieving Christian responded. “Yes, you can do it”. Well, he DID do it, and the rest is history.

The following lyrics convey a strong message and almost echo Christian’s path of success through life and his profession:
If you want to view paradise,
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There’s nothing to it

Arguably, the most well-known cover of this song is by Sammy Davis Jr., in 1971, the same year he recorded “The Candy Man,” also from “Willy Wonka.”

On Broadway

Also as an inspiration to the students at the San Diego Junior Theatre and their parents, Christian did a marvelous, upbeat cover of the Drifters’ 1963 and George Benson’s 1978 “On Broadway”. It’s a poignant song where our protagonist is “on Broadway” and having a hard time surviving. Christian gave the song a wonderfully bluesy feel, and revised his last line from “and I won’t quit ’til I’m a star…” to “and I didn’t quit; now I’m a star…on Broadway.” And we all agree, a star he is.

My Eyes Adored You

Perhaps Christian’s loudest entrance applause in Act I was for this beautiful Frankie Valli/”Jersey Boys” ballad, written by Kenny Nolan (“I Like Dreamin’) and Bob Crewe. All of us Jersey Boys fans know the story of how “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” almost never got off the ground and went on to sell 3 million copies. Most of us don’t know that “My Eyes Adored You” has a similar story.

In 1974, Frankie Valli’s MoWest (part of Motown) label balked at releasing the beautiful “My Eyes Adored You”, first recorded in the early part of the year. Valli bought back the song for $4,000 but was quickly rejected by Capitol, Atlantic, and other labels. He finally succeeded in having the single released on the Private Stock label, and the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 in March, 1975.

The success of “My Eyes Adored You” triggered a revival of interest in recordings by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Without “Eyes”, would we have ever had “Who Loves You” and “Oh, What a Night”?

Christian’s cover was beautiful and touching, with pianist Czarnecki providing the vocal harmonies. While an upbeat song, it still reflects the hope and yearning we have all experienced in life. The audience applause for MEAY was deafening, and rightfully so! Here it is on Youtube!

I Could Write a Book (dedicated to Christian’s wife Melissa)

Christian performed a very moving rendition of Rodgers & Hart’s “I Could Write a Book,” In “Book”, Christian “never learned to count, a great amount” “never learned to spell, at least not well”, but if they asked him, he “could write a book about the way you walk, whisper, and look,” and “could write a preface on how we met, so the world would never forget.” It was so obvious to all of us he was singing of his “Sweet Melissa.” When one enters, he or she is treated to “Book”.

Interestingly, although he never “wrote a book,” Christian holds the Guinness World Record for Most Character Voices in an Audio Book with his reading of the Ed Feldman/Tom Barton Hollywood retrospective “Tell Me How You Love the Picture”? And most recently, our Tony winner did a bang-up job on his audiobook of Andrew Gross’s best seller “Don’t Look Twice”. The author himself raved about Christian’s reading.

Throughout the swingin’ first half of the program, it was easy to imagine the spirit of Bobby Darin watching from the wings, smiling while snapping his fingers and tapping a toe or two along with the rest of us. Doesn’t Christian seem a natural for “Mack the Knife?”


At intermission as well as before the show, one could roam around the lobby to view and bid on a variety of items up for silent auction – things like autographed CD’s, posters, and programs, many Jersey Boys-related. There was a memory book (with a long line of teen-age girls in front of it) in which one could write a note to Christian. The crowd spilled out onto the patio on this warm evening, where light refreshments were served. Once back inside, after a few words about the SDJT from the evening’s hosts and a few live auctions, we were reminded that as the first half ended, the headliner told us he’d be back after the intermission to shift gears a bit and ratchet up the energy level for some rock and roll. And Christian Hoff delivered!

Still in his black designer suit, Christian began his second act accompanied by his more casually dressed band, which consisted of Christian on rhythm guitar and of course lead vocals, a lead guitarist, a drummer, and a bassist. “The Czar” chimed in now and then when a piano was called for, and most interestingly, a violinist(!!) filled out the sound on about a third of the tunes. Christian expertly covered a wide variety of rock styles, often displaying a vocal blend of precision and grittiness reminiscent of Elvis Costello.

Mustang Sally

Kicking off the R’n'R with some R&B, their first song was a this wonderfully bluesy song made famous by Wilson Pickett in 1966 and named the #434 song of all time by “Rolling Stone” magazine in 2004. Christian also demonstrated his marvelous talent on his faithful Fender guitar.


“Moondance” is the title cut on Van Morrison’s 1970 album “Moondance” but was first released as a single in 1977. Christian was accompanied by piano player Charles Czarnecki and his band to a nice jazz swing.. Appropriately, it’s a song about autumn, as we enter the 2009 Fall season.

High and Dry

One for the “youngsters” in the audience, “High and Dry” was popularized by Radiohead in 1995. Christian sounded a bit like Rod Stewart as he commanded the crowd. The song was most recently included in the 2007 movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

Wind Cries Mary

Specifically directed to the Woodstock generation, Christian gave us so poignantly this beautiful Jimi Hendrix tune of faith, hope, sadness, and unanswered prayers with the beautiful lyrics:

Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past?
And with its crutch, its old age, and its wisdom
It whispers “no, this will be the last”
And the wind cries Mary

Message in a Bottle

This story song comes from the Police number one hit in the U.K. Literally, the song is about a castaway on an island who sends out a “message in a bottle” seeking love. After he decides he doesn’t need love a year later, he sees “a hundred billion bottles” on the shore, realizing there are so many more people like him in the world.

Symbolically, most listeners read “Message” as a lament of isolation. However, our hero understands that, like him, we all have to deal with loss and loneliness at some point in our lives. The island and the bottle are metaphors (are you listening, Bob Crewe?), and by reaching out, the castaway finds that so many others share his isolation.

Wonderfully told, Christian. Your story-telling delivery here was reminiscent of Jim Croce or Harry Chapin. But of course, we all know you’re a wonderful story-teller from your audiobook “Tell Me How You Love the Picture” and from “Don’t Look Twice”. Great stuff to slow the pace a bit. The song received tremendous entrance applause from the audience.

Come Together

Well, certainly the crowd “came together” in a great singalong of this Lennon-McCartney Beatles tune with Christian doing his best John Lennon imitation. The song, of course, was penned mostly by Lennon to celebrate Timothy Leary’s gubernatorial campaign against Ronald Reagan.

So many years later, we all still wonder, is “shooting Coca Cola” really a reference to the popular soft drink?

Oh What a Night!

In so many ways, this was the absolute highlight of the evening. The honor of singing with Christian was auctioned off during intermission to the highest bidder, a gentleman who said his name was “to be determined.” He assigned his winning bid to a young alumnus of the Junior Theatre, Mr. Crews, who alternated lyrics with Christian in this Gaudio-Parker song as popular today as it was 33 years ago. The winning bid, by the way, was a whopping $1,500!

In “Jersey Boys”, Christian’s singing was relegated to back-up status 90% of the time, getting to sing lead on only three – actually three snippets – of songs (“Silhouettes”, “Apple of My Eye”, and “Earth Angel”). Bobby Spencer said in an interview about his post-Jersey Boys musical “Next To Normal” that it’s nice for people to know he can sing more than “sill-llly boy.” Well, tonight was a similar opportunity for Christian, and he took the ball and ran with it, giving proof positive that he is not only a great Tony-winning actor and leading man, but a fabulous and talented singer as well. It was an evening of versatility, validation, variety, and Versace.

Each arrangement was absolutely wonderful; kudos to musical director Charles Czarnecki. The astute among you might recognize his name as having been the conductor of Jersey Boys on Broadway, as well as arranger/conductor/pianist for Christian’s January, 2008 cabaret, “Exiled.” Maybe that’s why the opening chords of the night’s “Oh What A Night” sounded so good!

After the show, our “matinee idol”, relaxed and charming as ever, met each and every one of his fans, signed every autograph, and took every picture. With slight exaggeration it seemed as if he spent as much time at the “meet and greet” dessert reception after the show, as he did performing during it. Though he must have been tired, he was nothing less than a complete gentleman to all who wished to thank him and shake his hand. The epitome of a class act.

Christian has recorded most of his songs performed on Saturday evening on a wonderful CD called “Turn-styles”. Proceeds go to benefit the San Diego Junior Theatre. If you wish to purchase it or make a contribution to the San Diego Junior Theatre, either in Christian’s name or to honor or memorialize anyone, you may do so at (619) 239 – 1311.

Christian is presently starring (until November 15) along with T.R Knight of “Grey’s Anatomy” in “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. “Parade” won the 1999 Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Music. For tickets, please go to or please call 213-628-2772.


  1. Thanks to the dynamic duo writing team (no, not Brickman and Elice), Tucker and Stubbleyou, I feel like I had front row seats to a fabulous evening. The SDJT hosted a wonderful tribute to a talented entertainer. And how typical of Christian to put the focus back on a theatre that helps young artists! I have heard him sing a couple of those songs at his cabaret show and I know the audience was enthralled. I’m so glad “I Could Write a Book” is on the CD; it’s one of my favorites. The pictures are lovely. Thanks to all who wrote this article, posted stories on the Forum, and provided photos & videos! You help keep us connected to our JB cast and each other.

    Comment by LuluThompson — September 29, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

  2. Fantastic Review Howard and Stubbleyou. I echo the comment above. I feel as if I was there in the audience watching Cristian with you.

    Comment by Dimitri — September 30, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  3. Howard Tucker and Stubbleyou have written a wonderful piece on actor/singer/voice reader Christian Huff whose story is quite an inspiration to anyone trying to make it in “the business”. The subject is living proof that perseverance pays and shows us all that if we want to view paradise we simply need to “look around and view it”.

    Comment by Michael Heath — September 30, 2009 @ 10:50 am

  4. Thank you for the article Howard and Stubbleyou. I’ve been waiting for the pics and review – and it is truly a treat. Like Lulu, I too felt like I was there. The pictures are super – everyone looked great and the pics of the program, auction items, etc rounded out the experience. Thank you so much for putting this review together.

    I look forward to seeing Christian in Parade.

    Comment by Angel — September 30, 2009 @ 10:54 am

  5. Nothing could come close to being at the concert, but this write-up/review is the next best thing! Oh what a night this must have been!

    Comment by Jack Ong — September 30, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  6. Never mind Brickman and Elice, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin Brothers, or the Sherman Brothers! Stubbleyou and Tucker are the hot writing duo! Brilliant post, Fellas! Sounds like a dynamite evening was had and enjoyed by all. Like John Lloyd, I am sure it meant so much that you all came and supported Christian in a cause so close to his heart!

    Looking forward to what you guys think of his work as “Hugh Dorsey” in “Parade.”


    Comment by Chiara — September 30, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

  7. Terrific review of a great evening. Great comments on each song too. It was so much fun. Christian was so gracious. It was nice to see his whole family there too.

    Comment by Linda/Tiggerbelle — September 30, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

  8. Great Job Howard!
    Beautiful Beautiful Pictures!
    Wonderful Article, enjoyed it very much.

    Comment by Damaris Dugan — September 30, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

  9. This is your best work yet…thank you so much Howard and Stubbleyou!

    Comment by Carolyn — September 30, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  10. Howard & Stubbleyou,

    You have certainly captured the essence of a wonderful evening that was enjoyed by all fortunate to be in attendance. Thank You for enhancing the performance by providing everyone with additional research for each of Christian’s songs! You have created quite a keepsake for all the Jersey Boys fans.

    And to Christian, special thanks!

    Comment by priscilla — October 1, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

  11. Fantastic article, guys!

    You should get some kind of award for it! :)

    Thanks for summarizing the wonderful time we all shared together with Christian last month!

    Comment by Dina F. — October 2, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  12. Great job fellas! Great pics everyone! I clicked on the You Tube link and listened to Christian’s version of MEAY and it was beatifully done and from the heart. The first verse of MEAY is left out of Jersey Boys and understandably so – it doesn’t fit since Frankie and Mary were not childhood friends (“Carried your books from school; playing make believe you’re married to me; you were fifth grade – I was sixth – when we came to be…”), but without it the longing in the relationship is missing. A masterfull interpreation Christian. Bravo!

    Comment by David Cace — October 3, 2009 @ 10:05 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URI

Please leave a comment