January 18, 2008

Christian Hoff’s ‘Exiled’ Debuts at the Metropolitan Room!

January 18th, 2008

Photos 1-7 courtesy of George Rubino; photos 8-13 courtesy of Dina Chirico.

By Howard Tucker, Jersey Boys Blog Special Correspondent

We experienced genuine Christian Hoff this Monday evening, “exiled” temporarily from his Tony-winning performance as Tommy DeVito. Luminaries Melissa Hoff, Baby Elizabeth Hoff, Travis Cloer with lovely fiancé, Jen, Jennifer Naimo and even the legendary Bebe Neuwirth were in attendance.

Christian took us through the twentieth century, with arrangements dating back to the Big Band Era of the 1930’s and 1940’s and the Rock Era of the 1950’s and 1960’s. We all were “exiled” back to the Golden Age of Broadway and through film spanning the same decades.

As you’ll all see, he took us through the sometimes “treacherous roads of life and love” to become the talented, humble, and dedicated Tony-winning performer, Guinness World Record Holder, and great husband and dad he is today.

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 troops blends perfectly in showing us that her journey 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 audience “on a string” from the start.

“What I’d Say”/”Tell the Truth” (medley), “You Mustn’t Kick it Around”, “I Could Write a Book”
After some playful banter with the audience, Christian led his second set with a soulful Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say” in a medley with “Tell the Truth.”

All of us who have followed Christian’s career this last year know that Broadway producers have been interested in his reviving loveable cad Joey Evans in the classic “Pal Joey,” in the role originated by Gene Kelly and made famous by Frank Sinatra. In saluting “Pal,” Christian gave us a delightfully humorous take on “You Mustn’t Kick it Around.” I wondered as Christian sang the line, “even though I’m mild and meek”…Tommy DeVito, were you listening??

Later in the hour, Christian performed a very moving rendition of Rodgers & Hart’s “I Could Write a Book,” also from “Pal Joey.” 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.” Was he thinking of his “sweet Melissa”? Or perhaps that 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”?

Christian shared with the audience that the future of a “Pal Joey” revival is still bright and he still hopes to play Joey Evans at some point. Our entire table thought he’d be perfect for the Kelly/Sinatra role. (My choice for the Rita Hayworth part: Catherine Zeta-Jones, and for the Kim Novak role: Jessica Simpson.)

Twenty Flight Rock
In the marvelous Broadway World story “From Surfer Boy to Jersey Boy,” Christian talks about auditioning for Des McAnuff with his 1959 Gibson LG 1 guitar, singing the Eddie Cochran song “Somethin’ Else” from the same year. On Monday we were treated to an earlier Cochran classic “Twenty Flight Rock”. Who knows how far Cochran, a 1987 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, may have gone, but for his tragic fatal car crash in 1960. Thanks for bringing back the memory for a few minutes, Christian, of your arguably favorite male vocalist of all time (all “Jersey Boys” and “Four Seasons” members—past and present—excepted of course).

Shake, Rattle and Roll
Please don’t miss our own Audrey Rockman’s YouTube posting of Christian’s energetically channeling Bill Haley in 1954’s “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” originally covered by Big Joe Turner. Who said Haley’s 1955 “Rock Around the Clock” was the first “rock and roll” song? Christian wowed us again here with his talented guitar playing. Christian’s two co-vocalists Emily Fletcher and Stephanie Gibson really shone on this number.

Time for another cover for a new generation, Christian?

Cry, Cry, Cry
“Eli’s Coming” to “Walk the Line” to “Cry, Cry, Cry.” The Jersey Boys cast knows Christian’s son Eli as a gifted trumpet soloist, evidenced by his and daughter Erika’s Christmas, 2006 performance backstage. Little would any of us have imagined Eli is also the Johnny Cash aficionado amongst our extended Jersey Boys cast family.

According to Eli’s research, “Cry, Cry, Cry” was Cash’s second release, also from 1954, two years before “Walk the Line”, and Dad Christian’s take was reminiscent of Cash’s emotion-filled baritone. It really left the audience thirsty, not only for “Walk the Line”, but for “Ring of Fire.” How about a little more “Cash” pressure for Dad’s encore, Eli??

With the Charles Mingus’ penned “Moanin’,” Christian elevated the blues to an amazingly high level. He began with a trademark baritone and then slowly expanded into his jazz moanin’ collectively with his backup singers, Emily and Stephanie. One might have thought Ray Charles or B.B King was performing.

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 there are more people like him, suggesting that 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”. Great stuff to slow the pace a bit.

(“Give Our Regards to Broadway”) Where or When, My Romance, Stranger in Paradise, This Can’t be Love/Thou Swell (medley)
The beautiful Rodgers & Hart’s “Where or When” originally was written for the 1937 musical “Babes in Arms.” My baby boomer generation remembers the great Dion & the Belmont cover in 1960 which hit #3. Christian’s beautiful rendition nearly had my tablemate Pamela in tears, it was so touching!

“My Romance,” also by Rodgers & Hart, was originally sung in Billy Rose’s Broadway circus musical “Jumbo” in 1935. But once more, my generation recalls Doris Day performing this classic in the 1962 movie version.

There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t heard “Stranger in Paradise.” originally sung by Richard Kiley (“Man of La Mancha”) in the 1953 musical “Kismet”. It was a popular hit for the Four Aces a year prior to “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.” In 2003, it was covered by Sarah Brightman. But we all know “Paradise” from our kids and grandkids’ Playstations, as it is featured in Ape Escape 3. This one’ll live forever!

“This Can’t Be Love” was originally written for the 1938 Rodgers & Hart musical “The Boys from Syracuse,” but again, my generation knows it from Doris Day’s 1962 film version of “Jumbo.” Christian made “Love” a perfect fit with “Thou Swell,” a jazz tune from R&H’s 1927 musical “A Connecticut Yankee” (in King Arthur’s Court), wonderfully covered by Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.

Christian shared with us his love of great chord progressions and split meter arrangements in Les Paul’s “Lover.” Christian’s stories about auditioning for Des McAnuff in “Jersey Boys” with his 1959 Gibson LG 1 and how he and Tommy DeVito share the same preference in guitars are legendary. In this era of one-note guitarists, Christian’s talent spoke loud and clear.

Christian ended his amazing journey through life and love with a rousing rendition of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’ “Cloudburst,” complete with vocalese section. Many of us never knew he could sing so fast, but the lyrics were unmistakably reminiscent of Christian’s love for his Melissa.

Then we met and you can bet
I knew from the first, you were my love,
and that’s when the old gray cloudburst.
My heart really flew, the day you caught my eye.

Epilogue to the Evening
The unique and wonderful arrangements came from music director/arranger Charles Czarnecki. Christian was accompanied by fellow “Exilers”:

  • Charles Czarnecki – Piano
  • Christian Hoff, Craig Magnano – Guitar
  • Ryan Berg – Acoustic Bass
  • Jon Davis – Drums
  • Christian Hoff, Emily Fletcher, Stephanie Gibson- Vocals

Sung with passion, Christian led us through a wonderful evening of love and life and his journey to the “top of the world” as the talented and charismatic Tony Winner and marvelous family man he is today. True, as he’s shown us in song, he’s taken a sometimes treacherous road to arrive at this pinnacle. But who said life is supposed to be easy? Bravo, Christian.


  1. Thank you for this beautiful journey of Christian’s ‘Exiled’ concert..Howard, Amazing again!! How do you remember all that trivia Howard??? I know, “It’s a gift”..All the best tomorrow Christian, sounds like you have a winner!! Jody

    Comment by Jody Cardillo — January 18, 2008 @ 11:19 pm

  2. It was a great evening and for those who couldn’t be there at Christian’s show in person, Howard put you all virtually there.

    Comment by David Cace — January 19, 2008 @ 7:41 am

  3. Wonderful article, Howard. I am even more excited about seeing Christian tonight in Florida (if that’s possible). Thank you for sharing your evening and in such an eloquent way.

    Comment by Melissa — January 19, 2008 @ 9:46 am

  4. I was able to be at Christian’s concert vicariously through your detailed, eloquent description of the evening, Howard. As one famous person, who shall go unamed once said, “Howard, I am a fan of yours.” I think we all are.

    Marvelous journey for Christian. He is coming to Palm Beach where I wish I could see him but unfortunately can’t. I would think quite a few FLORIDA JB fans will be there.


    Comment by irene eizen — January 19, 2008 @ 10:36 am

  5. Howard,

    Thanks for another fabulous recap; beautifully written , with incredible detail. Your knowledge of music and Broadway history is amazing; what a gift. Reading your article felt like reliving Christian’s wonderful show again. And yes, I did tear up during ‘Where Or When’!

    Comment by Pamela — January 19, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  6. Wow, Howard! What an excellent review. You took us all on a journey just be reading this. Thanks so much for this as well as having the pleasure of being a tablemate! And again Christian, this was such a great concert. We could’ve listened for another two hours to you! :D

    Comment by Dina Chirico — January 19, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  7. Your review is absolutely beautiful, Howard. Once again you have made those of us who are not fortunate enought to attend these performances feel a little less sad. Christian is lucky to have you as a “friend”, as are the rest of us.

    Comment by Catherine — January 19, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  8. I’m so touched and humbled by the great comments above; thank you. This indeed was a “labor of love” for me in a sense since my great Jersey Boys ride “all started with” Christian! He himself provided a good deal of the background above. Christian is a pleasure to work with–humble, knowledgeable, flexible, and most of all, so appreciative. Whom we all see at the stage door is indeed the genuine article, and he hasn’t changed a bit in two years!

    Yes, Pamela, Dina, and David, we had a great table along with Norene, John, Audrey, Charles, Dina, and the timeless Lulu (in the slide show above). And yes, Lulu did have her renowned Jersey Boys purse and did distribute autographed pictures. So thank you “to Lulu, with love.”

    Comment by Howard Tucker — January 19, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

  9. Howard, thank you so much for the wonderful, wonderful review!! You made me feel like I was sitting right there at the same table with you, listening to Christian’s amazing voice and going on this journey with him…next time I fully intend on being there in the flesh! Till then, I have your beautifully written and as-close-to-being-there-as-you-can-get review!!! Thank you!

    Comment by Lucy — January 19, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

  10. Wow, what a compilation of songs and a diverse range. I get goose bumps every time I hear that haunting music from “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” Thank you so much, Howard. You made me feel like I was sitting right there beside you. Your knowledge of the material contributed greatly to my enjoyment of your article. The background of these songs is integral to the man that is Christian Hoff. What talent, both Howard & Christian!!

    Comment by LindaL — January 19, 2008 @ 8:48 pm

  11. Hey, Howard, “you oughta be in pictures.” IE

    Comment by irene eizen — January 19, 2008 @ 9:46 pm

  12. This was a wonderful evening and worth all the trouble it took me to get there (more on the Forum). I was mesmerized by Christian’s performance and thoroughly entertained by my wonderful tablemates. I enjoyed all of the songs, but “I Could Write a Book” and “Where or When” were especially touching to me. Christian’s voice and smooth style are so well suited to the soft, subtle ballads. And the one thing he should add is a set of bongos to play during the SOS song . . . he was moving all over the stage during that song and you tell he was having a good time!(what was the title of that song, Howard?) One of the highlights of the evening for me was when he thanked the audience (Jersey Boys fans, fellow cast members, his family and others) for being there because it showed once again how much he truly appreciates his fans. He was gracious and kind enough to greet those in attendance. And it was a special evening for me to reconnect with friends I have met thru the JBBlog and to meet new friends, like Pamela. And everyone even indulged me when I passed out autographed pictures..of me, LOL!

    Comment by LuluThompson — January 19, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

  13. Thanks for sharing all of the moments and photos of this wonderful evening with Christian Hoff!

    Comment by NewJerseyLasagna — January 20, 2008 @ 10:45 am

  14. After reading your report, I, too, felt as though I had been at the concert. (Although I am sorry that I missed the real thing, as it must have been spectacular.) Thank you, Howard, for taking the time to share this event with us. Sharon

    Comment by Sharon — January 20, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

  15. Howard what a talent you possess. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your report…WOW it really did feel like I was there!! Thank you so much!!

    Comment by Charly — January 20, 2008 @ 9:52 pm

  16. another masterpiece by howard!

    jim petrecca yesterdays treasures home of the 4-seasons wall of fame.

    Comment by jim petrecca — January 20, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

  17. Thanks, Howard, for sharing … you made me feel like I was sitting beside you and your friends.

    Comment by Patie — January 20, 2008 @ 10:33 pm

  18. Splendid! I’m sure the only thing better then your synopsis would to have actually been there. It was way back when that my admiration for Christian brought this all over the JB site’s “Howard” to my attention. A curiosity then has now turned into a great anticipation of our finally meeting on the 23rd. I know it will be all good. God Bless you and your many talents. It was such a pleasurable read.
    Grace xoxox

    Comment by grace — January 21, 2008 @ 1:09 am

  19. Great job Howard! Sounds like it was a great evening of music and entertainment. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Michael Heath — January 21, 2008 @ 9:45 am

  20. Howard, again a great job ! Reiner

    Comment by Reiner Bussmann — January 24, 2008 @ 5:08 am

  21. Thank God for those who dedicate their time to preserve precious history for those who were not there at the time. ‘Tis a generous thing to be a Historian.

    Comment by Bron Burda — January 27, 2008 @ 12:17 pm

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