By Hillary Busis
Updated December 10, 2013 at 04:11 PM EST
Hit List 01
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Smash lives!!

Kinda. Sorta. Well, not really. But for a few brief, shining moments on Dec. 9 and 10, a gaggle of alumni from NBC’s failed musical experiment banded together to put on a show: a concert version of Hit List, the hip downtown musical that tried to wrest our attention from Bombshell in season 2.

As fans (and, yes, hate-watchers) know, in the context of the series, that attempt was largely unsuccessful — even if Hit List did go on to win a bunch of fake Tony awards. But in a small, moodily lit cabaret, when performed uninterrupted for an audience stacked with Smash partisans and Broadway insiders, something completely unexpected happened: Hit List worked. Sure, the show wasn’t exactly the groundbreaking edgefest Smash kept trying to insist it was — and it also wasn’t the self-referential campfest I was hoping it might be. But as a simple fable about a beautiful, fame-hungry jerk and the talented boy who inexplicably loves her, I could see this thing having legs beyond its three-performances-only run. (If and only if its writers can work out the rights issues with NBC, which might be impossible.)

Want more details? Gather round, pour yourselves a few martinis, and get comfy; the show will go on… right now! Here’s everything you missed by not going to Hit List:

1. A long, cold line

The wind was angry Monday night, my friends, like Derek the Director trying to insist that he did not have sexual relations with that backup dancer. Smash fans huddled in clumps outside the theater, growing restless as the clock ticked closer to the show’s ostensible start time (11:30 p.m. for the later performance) and thinking about the choices they’d made. I speculated that the entire event was actually a vindictive bait-and-switch — call it “Theresa Rebeck’s Revenge.” A girl with eyes like an Alaskan husky trolled the line, asking each standee if they’d be willing to sell their ticket. She’ll haunt my dreams for weeks to come.

2. Smash celebrity spotting

Season 2 showrunner Josh Safran! Bombshell co-composer Scott Wittman! Hit List co-composer Benj Pasek! Ex-Chuck Zachary Levi, who never appeared on Smash but does star in First Date on Broadway with Smash alum Krysta Rodriguez! (Later, he’d emerge from the bathroom and nearly run right into Rodriguez, who was standing in the audience about to perform a big, emotional ballad.) All were present and accounted for, along with other insiders. Missing from the room: Any Smash cast members besides Hit List stars Rodriguez, Jeremy Jordan, and Andy Mientus. Let’s just pretend Christian Borle, Anjelica Huston, and Megan Hilty were enjoying Bombshell‘s dark night by drinking wine and catching up on Scandal or something.

3. A cheeky meta program

The paper’s back cover featured a list of fake musicals and revivals mentioned over the years on Smash, done up to look like the shows listed in an actual Broadway program. Check it out below, and click here for a closer look.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

54 Below, the venue presenting Hit List, also boasted a menu of Smash-themed drinks for the performance — including a Caught in the Dark-and-Stormy and a Jimmy Collins, which I assume tasted off-puttingly bitter.

4. An intro from Ann Harada

Better known to Broadway fans as Avenue Q‘s original Christmas Eve — and to Smashochists as Stage Manager Linda, one of the show’s unsung heroes. Before Hit List finally began, Harada appeared onstage to introduce it with the same intro Hit List got on Smash; audiences were encouraged to text, tweet, tumbl, keek, squonk, and narf the show as they watched it, because Hit List belongs to everyone, man. (Except, as Harada added, it really kind of belongs to NBC — so maybe don’t post videos of it on YouTube, okay?)

5. A coherent plot

Wait, Hit List‘s storyline was actually more specific than “ehh, fame!”? It’s true! Thank book writer (and ex-Smash staffer) Julia Brownell for crafting a script that credibly connected the fake show’s disparate songs, even if some of its beats continued not to make sense. (“Amanda,” Karen’s character, heads off to L.A. and gets famous under an assumed name… and nobody but Jimmy’s character Jesse knows her real identity? The Internet exists in this world, right?) And no offense to theater martyr Kyle Bishop, but Brownell’s dialogue worked much better than his ever did. (The staged Hit List, for example, excised this gem: “You sure this is gonna work? These two, together onstage? Nina wants nothing more than to bring The Diva down!” “Would you relax? This is the VMAs!”) Brownell also added in a part for Andy Mientus, Smash‘s doomed elf Kyle; in the concert version, Mientus both read the show’s stage directions and played Nick, Jesse’s supportive and long-suffering childhood best friend slash roommate. Wait, where have we heard that before?

6. Text message alerts

Remember Julia and Jimmy’s brilliant idea to send mass texts during the show, fully immersing their audience in the world of Hit List or something? Well, the staged Hit List did the exact same thing. Here’s the string of messages sent, in its entirety:

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

7. Katharine McPhee’s standout standin

Alas, though her face still graced Hit List‘s poster, the real Karen Cartwright was too busy seducing bar mitzvah-goers to attend the night’s festivities — so she was replaced by Carrie Manolakos, a talented singer/songwriter/actress whose smoky, emotive voice could be heard on Smash‘s demos. In other words, McPhee is to Rebecca Duvall as Manolakos is to Karen. (Watch your smoothies, Kat.)

8. Additional songs

Some of the songs performed in the staged Hit List were absent from Smash. They included:

“Anymore,” written by Joe Iconis, a song about some jerk on Jesse’s titular “hit list.” He performs it for Amanda to prevent her from committing suicide; later, she steals it and repurposes it to be her first single as “Nina Hope.”

“If I Had You,” written by Drew Gasparini, sung by Jesse after he becomes smitten with Amanda

“The Guide to Success,” written by Joe Iconis, a sleazy anthem for Amanda’s sleazy new manager (the character Sam played in Smash‘s Hit List)

– “Calling Out My Name,” written by Lucie Silvas, sung by the show’s main characters at the top of Act 2 as they’re at their lowest point

“Swim,” written by Andrew McMahon, which Nick sings to boost Jesse’s spirits — finally, a worthy spotlight for Andy Mientus!

“Haddonfield (15 Years Later),” written by Joe Iconis, a despairing tune sung by The Diva when she returns to her empty childhood home. Fun fact: It was actually inspired by the plot of Halloween.

The best line in these extra songs? That’d be this quote from “The Guide to Success:” “And eventually, every relationship ends/So throw out your baby and murder your friends.”

9. No aerial act

Since the show was just a concert, we were cheated out of seeing Krysta Rodriguez performing acrobatics on an aerial silk. But there was a short piece of purple fabric attached to a projector near the stage, which served as a nod to her show-stopping Smash act.

10. Lots of glowing screens

There was no Wall o’ iPads. There were, however, plenty of iPhones held aloft by audience members who took Ann Harada’s opening manifesto to heart. So if you missed out on the performance, don’t worry: You might still be able to see most of it… provided you know where to look.

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