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Q&A: Chris Hoch, from CMU to Broadway to Aldolpho to ‘Jagged Little Pill’

Chris Hoch was joking when he said, “I tend to do a tour about every 10 years.” 

Since graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 1998 and jumping right into a Pittsburgh CLO ensemble role, that’s taking Gaston from Broadway to the road in Beauty and the Beast, starting in 1999, George Banks in Mary Poppins, starting in 2009, a post-Broadway turn as Jacob Marley in the Tony Award-winning A Christmas Carol last year and, currently, in a Jagged Little Pill.

Chris Hoch and Heidi Blickenstaff in the touring company of “Jagged Little Pill.” (Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)

In the Alanis Morisette jukebox musical, he plays Steve Healy, a workaholic suburban dad with trouble brewing on the homefront. 

The name “Healy” is a hint about how much healing is needed among family members, including Steve’s wife, MJ – played by Heidi Blickenstaff – who has become addicted to painkillers after a car crash.

Jagged Little Pill brings Hoch back to Pittsburgh after he played a character of a very different sort this summer – egomaniacal Aldolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone.

Getting back on the road or doing regional gigs is a fraction of Hoch’s theatrical journey. His long and winding Broadway career began as a Gaston replacement and has included Georges in La Cage aux Folles and both Mr. Wormwood and Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical

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Click here for an interview with Jade McLeod,
who plays Jo in ‘Jagged Little Pill.

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“I enjoy the road,” Hoch was saying last week from the road, in Providence, R.I., with Jagged Little Pill. “I really like where you get to experience different audiences. It’s always kind of fascinating to me how different regional places in the country respond to things differently. That’s always kind of fun.”

Here’s some more perspective on past and present roles from Hoch.

Question: Your body of work is so eclectic. What’s it like going from playing fun-loving Aldolpho to a serious guy like Steve?

Answer: I think of it like, in volleyball terms, Aldolpho would be one of the spikers, and I think Steve is one of the setters. 

Q: If you were to describe Steve Healy to someone without giving too much away, what would you say about him?

A: He’s kind of a workaholic, but I think he’s also, you know, one of those people, like many of us, who are not dealing well with changes happening in our society, you know? I think that’s part of his struggle, too, that he just doesn’t understand a lot of what young people are going through now, especially his daughter, and then all that’s going on with his wife. 

Q: So how did you prepare to go down that kind of deep, dark place that a role like this can take you through? It can’t be the same as, say, taking on Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol, can it?

A: It’s obviously different, but in terms of preparation, I think this one’s more just about being as open and free to the kind of stimulus on stage, and to get more into neutral as myself, you know? Those other characters,  they were big characters, obviously. This one’s more just kind of being myself and  trying not to put any artifice on it, to just get to the emotions that he should get to. 

Q: Jesse Green wrote in The New York Times that Jagged Little Pill had solved the jukebox musical, finding a story that really matches Alanis Morissette’s songs. Was it an album you were familiar with or into before getting the role?

A: It’s kind of funny. I’m not like a big pop music person or rock music person, but I definitely was aware of You Oughta Know, and I was kind of aware of the album. But when I went to Carnegie and I was in Pittsburgh, I remember at one point we were all kind of getting into concept albums, like Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita, things like that. And I remember I was listening to this, like, someone had it on at a party or something and, you know, and just, and I was, like, this a concept album. This could be a musical. It had a theatricality and clearly told a story – not necessarily a narrative story, but an emotional journey. … But even though I got into it and thought it would be a great musical, I never imagined I’d be in it, because I mostly do different kind of stuff. 

Q: You know, Alanis Morisette might have been here in Pittsburgh filming Dogma around the time you graduated.

A:  I remember, because I did a show in Pittsburgh, right around that time – Picasso at the Lapin Agile at City Theatre.

Q: When you get back to Pittsburgh, Is there something you always feel like you have to do?

A: I’d love to say that I always go to Primanti Brothers or something like that, but mostly I’m just staying around the hotel. I usually see people that I know. Maybe I’ll get out to Carnegie, because I’ve still got friends there, but I still haven’t figured that ou. The easy answer is that,  I really like the audiences there. I think the art scene is obviously great, and I’ve always felt that the audiences were really attentive to things in the right way. I remember I hadn’t played there for a while when I did Drowsy, and I was like, ‘Oh God, this is Pittsburgh! People like all of us!” So I’m looking forward to that again, obviously. 

Steve (Chris Hoch) and MJ (Heidi Blickenstaff) visit a therapist
in the Alanis Morissette jukebox musical”Jagged Little Pill.”
(Courtesy of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)

Q: Do you feel like this musical, despite the well-known music, about drug addiction and sexual identity and sexual misconduct, is a hard sell? I mean, there are a lot of things going on here that people don’t necessarily go to musicals expecting to see.

A: It’s definitely a challenging show. When you’re looking at Alanis’ work and Jagged Little Pill, I mean,  the only way that you can  encompass that work is probably by making a show that is going to be challenging. People know Alanis’ music is amazing, and that would hopefully give them comfort that they’re in for a a great ride, and the script of the musical is done by Diablo Cody, who won the [best screenplay] Academy Award for Juno, and she won a [best book of a musical] Tony for this.  I think she’s the secret weapon of the show. … I think Diablo Cody really does a great job in terms of weaving everything together and also making it, I mean, yes, it is heavy, but, Diablo Cody makes it makes it go down with a lot of humor, of finding the comedy in dark circumstances. The laughs on the show are pretty, are pretty big actually. 

Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?

A: It’s actually \not a song. I mean, I guess there are moments of the song, but in the beginning of the second act, we have a scene where my character and Mary Jane’s character, played by the wonderful Heidi Bickenstaff, we go to a therapist, and that’s one of the most extended book scenes of the show. I think that  it’s really well written, and I look forward to that every night, just in terms of how it grounds the show very nicely in reality.

Q: If you were talking with someone coming to this as a blank page, without any expectations, how would you describe the show to them? 
A: Obviously, the main thing is, you’re gonna hear these amazing Alanis Morissette songs. … You know, it sounds like a marketer’s tagline, but it’s true. Some shows you see. This one you experience. It’s very impressionistic at points, and there’s gonna be a lot of stimuli coming at you. And I think it’s a great kind of experience if you give yourself over to it.

PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh presents “Jagged Little Pill” is at the Benedum Center, January 24-29. Tickets and details https://trustarts.org/production/81541/jagged-little-pill 



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