How “Hit List” Became A Real-Life Musical

The show within a show on NBC’s ill-fated Broadway drama Smash is stepping out of TV and onto the stage for three sold-out engagements in New York. Here are the six things you need to know.

1. Many of Smash’s core cast and creative team are involved with Hit List.

In a moment of meta entertainment, Smash alumni Jeremy Jordan, Krysta Rodriguez, and Andy Mientus are reviving their characters from Hit List, the musical featured in Season 2 of the late NBC musical drama, for the stage. (Carrie Manolakos is taking over for Katherine McPhee in that order of operations.) The actors are leading a cast for three performances of Hit List at New York City’s 54 Below, a so-called cabaret club for Broadway lovers. The show includes a brief book, penned by one of Smash’s writers, Julia Brownell, and overseen by Smash Season 2 showrunner Josh Safran, who’s also at the helm of the production. Hit List isn’t a full-on play (yet), but it’s definitely more than just a concert.

Below, Safran, Jordan, Mientus, and Jennifer Ashley Tepper, the director of programming at 54 Below, open up about how Hit List went from a Broadway show within a show about Broadway to being realized for the stage.

2. You can thank Twitter for the live Hit List performances.

BuzzFeed / Via Josh Safran and Jennifer Tepper

Smash Season 2 showrunner Josh Safran and 54 Below director of programming Jennifer Tepper in a selfie taken for BuzzFeed.

Safran and Tepper solidified their long-brewing friendship over some @ replies.

Tepper, who had collaborated often with Smash Season 2 songwriter Joe Iconis and produced his live shows at 54 Below and other venues, loved and live-tweeted the second season of Smash. “In one episode, they used [Iconis’ song] ‘Broadway, Here I Come,’ and I tweeted, ‘Thank you Josh Safran for “Broadway Here I Come” #iloveyou #idontknowyou’ and he tweeted back at me, ‘Coffee?’ — so this kind of started on Twitter,” she explained.

Once Season 2 was under way, the pair continued to daydream about putting on a production of Hit List. And just hours before Smash was canceled, Tepper remembered, Safran “did this amazing article where he detailed the plot of what Hit List would have been. It kind of had an aside of, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do it in concert?’ and that was it!”

3. The shows are a concert version of Smash’s downtown musical — similar to how it’d happen in the real theater world.

“What’s great is that Hit List is meant to represent this world of the young, up-and-coming, struggling musical,” said Mientus. “The way a lot of writers get their voice in the city is through concerts at venues like 54 Below, which are really slapdash and guerrilla style. So this is really pretty authentic. This is the way Hit List would have absolutely been done.”

Added Jordan about the preparation, “It’s just a little bit of rehearsal, probably more than we had for the TV show, but much less than we would have for a show on Broadway.”

4. The live show’s song list includes an additional handful of songs that weren’t on Smash.

“There were a couple of dates that were in play, so we didn’t know if this would be soon, middle or long. This is the middle version,” Safran said of how Hit List went from daydream to real production. “It was going to be in November initially. In the meantime, we reached out to Julia Brownell to write the book. There were always songs that I knew I wanted to put in the show. There’s a song called ‘Haddonfield’ and I always knew if the show had continued, we would have used ‘Calling Out My Name.’ [Watch a clip above.] While Julie wrote the book, I put together all of the songs I wished were in the show.

We sort of let that dictate the process. Luckily Jeremy, Krysta, and Andy were free this time. Kat [McPhee] was not, but Carrie was, and since she sang the demo, she was familiar with the music.

It’s going to be like a stage reading, basically. There might be a little movement, but no one can fly from the ceiling here and air canons can’t shoot glitter out. I think we just felt this was for the fans. I don’t think anyone is going to be live-snarking the show from a booth. Why pay those prices and come to do that?”

5. The future of Hit List beyond these three performances is uncertain.

Carrie Manolakos and Jeremy Jordan

Andy Mientus and Krysta Rodriguez

 

“It would be fun to do it full-out with a fully realized production and story attached to it, give it a limited run and see how it fares,” Jordan said. “But I would only do it if all these people were involved. That’s what made it so exciting and so fun in the first place.”

Tepper said the shows have “a waiting list of hundreds,” but the actors’ scheduling made it impossible to add more shows to the current run. “It was lightning in a bottle,” Safran added. “I don’t know if we’d be able to get everybody back together again. We’ll see!”

In reflecting on all the struggles that came along with Smash, Safran said, “I will admit, and I’m obviously partially responsible for this, but I do feel sad that there probably will not be a show about Broadway on television for a long time. Because when you reach this far and fail this big, it won’t happen. So, for people out there who are interested in musical theater — the ones who did watch the show because they wanted to be a part of it or they wanted to get to Broadway — the idea that it can still continue on some level, even in an underground space in a club somewhere, is the idea that it’s not gone.”

6. But in the meantime, Safran has some advice for anyone daring enough to take on a Broadway-inspired TV show.

Jordan and Manolakos perform “Rewrite This Story” / Via instagram.com

When asked what he’d say to someone who was going to take on the endeavor of doing another TV show about life in the theater, Safran paused, asked for a minute, and then concisely responded, “Limit the amount of voices, both outside and inside your head.”

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