Hit List (musical)

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Hit List is a fictional Broadway musical created for season two of the NBC television series Smash.

Created within the fiction by series characters Jimmy Collins (Jeremy Jordan) and Kyle Bishop (Andy Mientus), Hit List centers around three characters, Amanda, Jesse and "The Diva", as they seek to attain and hold onto fame. Amanda is portrayed by Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee), Jesse by Jimmy Collins and The Diva by Ana Vargas (Krysta Rodriguez).

On October 15, 2013, New York City venue 54 Below announced plans to stage Hit List in concert format. Jordan, Mientus and Rodriguez each appeared, with Carrie Manolakos standing in for McPhee.

Fictional plot[edit]

Act I[edit]

Hit List opens with The Diva attending a concert performance by "Nina". The Diva raises a gun and fires it.

The show then flashes back to a time before "Nina" was famous, when she went by her own name of Amanda. A "poor little rich girl" who dreams of making it as a pop star, she lacks the necessary style in both her persona and her songs. Jesse, a drug-addicted carpenter and songwriter from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, rescues Amanda when, following another rejection by a major record label, she plans to end her life by leaping from a bridge. He plays her one of his songs and they bond.

Following a confrontation with her family, which threatens to cut her off financially if she pursues her pop star dreams, Amanda draws inspiration from the life story of The Diva to continue her quest. She spends the night with Jesse, who has fallen in love with her, but in the middle of the night she steals all of Jesse's songs and vanishes. Her family believes she has finally killed herself but one day Jesse hears one of his songs on the radio. He recognizes the singer as Amanda, although she is now calling herself "Nina". Jesse resolves to travel to Los Angeles to reunite with her. He confronts her at her first big concert but, out of love for her, agrees to continue to supply her secretly with songs. As "Nina" ascends, Jesse falls back into drug abuse.

"Nina" auditions for JB, an eminent talent manager, at a party and he agrees to represent her. However, he wants more from her than a manager-client relationship. He pairs "Nina" with The Diva, his biggest client, and the duo records a hit single and video. When they perform it together on the VMAs "Nina" soars to the top of the charts while The Diva has a public breakdown.

Jesse asks Amanda to choose between him and her career. Instead, she publicly humiliates The Diva, leading Jesse to cut off her supply of new music and leave town. He hopes she will join him at the bridge where they met; instead she sleeps with JB.

Act II[edit]

Washed up, The Diva returns to her home town and resumes her original identity, "Sara Smith". No one believes she was once The Diva and she spirals deeper into despair.

Following a disastrous VMA performance of her original audition song, "Nina" enters a downward spiral. She returns to Jesse, now clean and sober, and expresses her desire to return to being the Amanda she used to be, with him at her side.

Amanda, her work now polished by her experience as "Nina", auditions again for the same record company executives who, along with the rest of the world, have no idea she used to be "Nina" (who has vanished without trace). She performs her first concert as herself and it is a moderate success. As she launches into her final song, The Diva arrives and shoots her. Jesse sings his goodbyes to Amanda as she dies on stage.

Jesse, starting over, feels energized by Amanda's legacy to succeed. The Diva is more famous and notorious than ever because of her act of violence. The musical closes with Jesse once again bidding Amanda goodbye while The Diva is returned to her former glory despite the possibility that the next "Amanda" is out there ready to challenge her supremacy.

Musical numbers[edit]

  1. ^ Intended to be "Haddonfield, 15 Years Later" by Joe Iconis

Fictional genesis[edit]

Karen Cartwright overhears Jimmy Collins performing "Broadway Here I Come" and calls director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) to listen.[2] She offers to introduce Jimmy and his writing partner, Kyle Bishop, to Derek. Jimmy initially refuses but at Kyle's urging he relents.[3] The pair pitches the musical, about a poor boy with songwriting talent who falls for a rich girl who steals his songs. Derek agrees to help shape the musical, to be called Hit List.[4]

At Derek's suggestion, Jimmy and Kyle put together a workshop production of Hit List for the New York Fringe Festival. They do a read-through for friends, which is a disaster because of Kyle's weak book.[5] They press on with the Fringe presentation but Karen's commitment to Bombshell prevents her from appearing. The first staging is poorly received but Karen clandestinely appears in the second staging, which is applauded. With the success Derek sees the potential and attaches himself to the show as director.[6]

Following a successful audition, Manhattan Theatre Workshop director Scott Nichols (Jesse L. Martin) offers to stage Hit List on his venue's "underground" stage. Karen withdraws from the role of Marilyn Monroe in Bombshell and joins the cast of Hit List as Amanda/Nina.[7] After an impromptu audition in a bar, Ana secures the role of The Diva.[8] With the book still in trouble, Scott and Derek enlist Julia Houston (Debra Messing) to serve as dramaturg for Hit List.[9]

Hit List opens on the main stage at the Manhattan Theatre Project to excellent reviews. Broadway producer Jerry Rand (Michael Cristofer) commits to transferring it to the Barrymore Theatre on Broadway.[10] Jesse's volatile attitude gets him fired from the production.

The night before Hit List is slated to open on Broadway, Kyle is struck by a car and killed.[11] Grief-stricken, the company decides to open anyway, performing a concert version of the show as a tribute. Moments after the show begins, Jimmy arrives and re-assumes the role of Jesse, performing "The Love I Meant to Say". The company then launches into the fully staged show.[12]

With Hit List running on Broadway, a member of the company named Daisy Parker (Mara Davi) blackmails Derek with threats of a sexual harassment lawsuit unless he gives her the role of The Diva. To avoid scandal, Derek capitulates,[13] leading Ana to threaten legal action.[14]

Hit List is nominated for several Tony Awards, facing off against rival show Bombshell in several categories. Hit List wins seven awards, including a posthumous Best Book Tony for Kyle, but loses Best Musical to Bombshell. Karen loses Best Actress to Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) in the role of Marilyn.[15]

Development[edit]

Hit List was created for season two of Smash, intended to be a rival production to Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe biographical musical created for season one. Drew Gasparini, Joe Iconis, Andrew McMahon, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and Lucie Silvas created the material for the fictional musical.[16] Smash season two showrunner Joshua Safran envisioned Hit List as a "scrappy underdog" to the senior Bombshell,[17] taking inspiration from the 2005 documentary film ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway,[18] and from Broadway seasons which saw Wicked head-to-head with Avenue Q and Billy Elliot in competition with next to normal.[17]

Safran wanted the sound of the second musical to completely contrast with that of Bombshell so he turned to rising theater writers. The first two songs selected for Hit List were "Broadway, Here I Come" and "The Goodbye Song", both by Joe Iconis. "So, in a very strange way, those songs actually created Hit List", Safran stated. He described Hit List as being about "really deal[ing] with the power of fame these days in the music industry or the arts. And the idea that in order to be somebody, you have to pretend to be somebody else."[18]

Rent[edit]

Critics noted the similarities between Hit List and Kyle Bishop and the musical Rent and its creator, Jonathan Larson. Like Hit List, Rent premiered in a workshop setting and transferred (although Rent went first to an Off-Broadway venue before going to Broadway). The morning before the show's Off-Broadway premiere, Larson died suddenly but the cast opened the show as scheduled. Like Kyle Bishop, Larson posthumously won the Tony Award for Best Book for a Musical (also Best Score). These parallels were intentional.

Two recurring cast members of Smash, Jesse L. Martin and Daphne Rubin-Vega, were also in the original cast of Rent. Joshua Safran, who was associated with Rent through his ex-boyfriend Anthony Rapp, consulted with both actors to be sure they felt that the story was appropriate and not exploitative. "If Daphne or Jesse had said, 'We feel like this story is in poor taste,' or, 'We don’t think you should do this story,' we’d [have pulled] the plug on it ... Also, because I know them from back in the day — I lived with them ... I think they also felt like I had a connection to that history, and what I was doing was writing my life, in a way."[19]

Andy Mientus, who has performed in Rent, was also aware of the parallels between his character and Larson. He was nervous about playing the parallels because of his connection to the show but hoped that it mirrored Larson's "enthusiasm and his light and positivity in a way that [made] that parallel something that’s a tribute and not exploitative. It’s about this kid who loves this art form more than anything, and has worked so hard and struggled so much to get the show to where it is, and then can’t be there to see it through. Hopefully that’s the story that we’re telling."[20]

Real-world staging[edit]

Official poster for Hit List

Safran initially expressed interest in staging a real-world version of Hit List during the second season. "We all talk about doing a Hit List concert at Joe's Pub, which everyone wants to do ... and if I did, I would use some of the songs we never used."[1] Following a performance of the song "Broadway, Here I Come" on Smash, 54 Below artistic director Jennifer Ashley Tepper contacted Safran via the social networking site Twitter. Tepper had previously collaborated with Joe Iconis, who wrote "Broadway, Here I Come".[21]

On October 15, 2013, it was announced that Hit List would be staged in concert format at 54 Below for two performances on December 9. Tickets for both shows sold out in under an hour. Because of the high demand, an additional performance was scheduled for December 8.[10] The concerts, under the musical direction of Benjamin Rauhala, was presented by Safran and Tepper, with a book written by screenwriter Julia Brownell. Smash stars Jeremy Jordan, Andy Mientus and Krysta Rodriguez performed as "Jesse", "Nick" and "The Diva" respectively.[16][18] Katharine McPhee, whose character Karen Cartwright starred in the fictional Hit List, was unavailable; her role of "Amanda" was performed by Carrie Manolakos, who had recorded several demo versions of songs performed on Smash.[17] Completing the cast are Molly Hager, Eric Michael Krop, Julia Mattison, Monet Julia Sabel and Eric William Morris.[22]

Songs that Safran had intended to use on Smash but did not were incorporated into the show, including "Anymore", "The Guide to Success"[23] and "Haddonfield, 15 Years Later" by Iconis, "Calling Out My Name"[21] by Lucie Silvas,[18] "If I Had You" by Gasparini and "Swim" by McMahon.[24] Hit List features 19 songs in total. Both Jordan and Rodriguez noted that the Hit List material when it appeared in Smash was more geared to advancing the Smash stories and characters rather than those of Hit List. With the live staging some songs were performed by different characters from those who performed them for the series.[18]

Critical reception[edit]

Times Square Chronicles described Hit List as "a show for anyone whose dreams are on the edge". Calling the show's sound "great" and its cast "energetic and vocal", the site declared that Hit List should come to Broadway or at least Off-Broadway but that the book should have explored a theme that its fictional writers proposed when pitching the show in Smash, that the songs be an actual "hit list" for people who had wronged the character Jesse.[25]

Jeff Lunden for NPR concurred in part and dissented to an extent. Calling the concert "energetic", the cast "superb" and the music "genuinely impressive", he nonetheless expressed some doubt whether the show itself could be a hit. He would, however, buy a cast recording.[18]

The New York Post declared Hit List to be "exhilarating" and the "hottest new musical in town". Citing the "workable book" as a "happy surprise", the Post praised the "energized" cast, singling out Jordan for special commendation, calling him "relaxed, charming and funny". Hit List, the Post concluded, may prove to be Smash's legacy.[26]

Future[edit]

No plans to continue Hit List have been announced. The property is under the control of NBC.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b The Unspoken Full Plot for Smash's ‘Hit List’ Musical Is Revealed
  2. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 1, "On Broadway"
  3. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 2, "The Fallout"
  4. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 3, "The Dramaturg"
  5. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 5, "The Read-Through"
  6. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 6, "The Fringe"
  7. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 7, "Musical Chairs"
  8. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 9. "The Parents"
  9. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 10, "The Surprise Party"
  10. ^ a b 54 Below Adds Dec. 8 Hit List Concert, Based on Fictional "Smash" Musical
  11. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 13, "The Producers"
  12. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 14, "The Phenomenon"
  13. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 15, "The Transfer",
  14. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 16, "The Nominations"
  15. ^ Smash Season 2 episode 17, "The Tonys"
  16. ^ a b Smash Fans, Rejoice! Hit List to Debut at 54 Below, Starring Jeremy Jordan, Krysta Rodriguez & Andy Mientus
  17. ^ a b c d An Encore for the ‘Smash’ That Wasn’t
  18. ^ a b c d e f When 'Hit List' Got Another Shot At An Audience
  19. ^ Born To Die: Why "Smash" Killed Off A Fan Favorite Character
  20. ^ Smash's Andy Mientus Talks Kyle's [Spoiler], Hit List's Rent Parallels and Jimmy's Redemption
  21. ^ a b How “Hit List” Became A Real-Life Musical
  22. ^ Jeremy Jordan, Krysta Rodriguez, Andy Mientus, Carrie Manolakos Bring "Smash" Musical Hit List to Life Dec. 8-9 at 54 Below
  23. ^ Ten things you missed when a New York theater put on 'Hit List' -- a musical from 'Smash'
  24. ^ Jeremy Jordan, Krysta Rodriguez, Andy Mientus, Carrie Manolakos Prove to Be a "Smash" in 54 Below's Hit List Concert
  25. ^ 54 Below Presents a Smash: Hit List or The Price of Fame
  26. ^ ‘Smash’ spawn ‘Hit List’ deserves to live on