Saturday, May 11, 2013

The 'Hit List' Soundtrack Paints a Specific and Sophomoric Picture of the Show-Within-'Smash'...

If you watch Smash, you know that "Hit List" is already kind of a messy play. If you read Vulture’s latest Smash article, a plot summary of "Hit List" by series showrunner Josh Safran that reads more like a manifesto or diatribe than concise, three act (two hour) production, you know just how convoluted it is actually intended to be. Safran may have had ideas in his head for what he wanted "Hit List" to be, but it doesn’t seem like he communicated those ideas to the actual "Hit List" writers.
If you watch Smash, you know that "Hit List" centers on three characters: The Diva, Amanda, and Jesse. The Diva is a character who, though on top of the pop music charts, becomes jealous of Amanda, an up-and-coming singer threatening her success. Amanda is an ordinary girl who reinvents herself—by stealing Jesse’s songs—to make herself more interesting as an artist. It works, and she becomes famous, in great part because even though Jesse knows she stole his music, he loves her and lets her have it, rather than blowing her secret. Then things go kind of off the rails-- at least according to Safran-- and the running time must tick up to seven hours in order to fit in all the original songs and additional dialogue scenes necessary to fill in the plot the songs do not cover.

But what about those people who don’t watch Smash or can’t piece together a complicated plot from out of order musical numbers that, on iTunes, aren’t even always sung by the actual characters in "Hit List?" More often than not these days, theater goers listen at least to snippets of soundtracks before going to see a new musical—Safran has even said he encourages that. So what if you didn’t know what Safran wanted for "Hit List" and you didn’t know what Smash said "Hit List" was either? If you were to download all of the "Hit List" numbers on iTunes-- and that is all you had to go on for the plot-- what story would they end up telling you? I sat down to find out, and as it turns out, it is a very different one than Safran intended.

"Hit List": a complex, but still somewhat sophomoric, relationship drama
  • "Broadway Here I Come" (aka the happiest suicide song since the Community theme)
Sample Lyrics: "...But even though I fear it/I'm playing all my cards/Baby, you are gonna hear it/When I give them my regards/I'm falling, baby, through the sky, through the sky/I'm falling, baby, through the sky/It's my calling, baby, don't you cry, don't you cry/I'm falling down through the sky..."

Act One opens with a lone, sad man standing on the edge of a building, peering down on the cars and people below. He is a young man, but one who clearly feels like he lost everything and has nothing going for him. It is a crowded New York street like any other, and everyone is so lost in their own business they don’t notice him. Not even when he begins to sing. Not even when he steps off the edge. His suicide opens the play but is actually a scene from the near future. We flash back to

  • "Rewrite This Story" (aka the theme of his play as musical exposition)
Sample Lyrics: "...How long can I stay/Lost without a way to rewrite/I wish I could rewrite this story/Change every word of every line/Write any story but mine/Someone tell me when/Can I start again/And rewrite this story..."

The guy who ends up committing suicide and a girl are in the same house, but in different rooms, each one lost in his or her own world and problems. For ease, let’s just use the actual "Hit List" character names: Jesse and Amanda. They’re the kind who have clearly been together since they were kids, but their ambitions are taking them apart now. They worry about different things and rarely confide in each other. They each want something bigger than themselves and even bigger than this relationship. They want to start over, but they've grown complacent, and they’re too afraid to take the leap. So they continue on as they always have because it’s safe, because it’s expected, because actions towards the unknown are scary.

  • "Good For You"
Sample Lyrics: "...If you paid the DJ/Don't waste another dance tune/Come on over while they play our song/Make conversation/Don't waste on with excuses/Cause they’re useless and I've been waiting all night long…I, Oh I/Think I could be good for you/I could be good for you..."

Later that night, Jesse and Amanda are out at a club, neither one acknowledging their inner concerns. It’s date night, and they actually seem happy together, dancing and drinking, until some other guy tries to cut in. Immaturely, he gets angry and jealous, and he storms off. He runs hot and cold, and his switch has been flipped. It’s not something she’s unfamiliar with, and she goes after him to try to keep convince him not to ruin their night together. She starts out lighthearted but sound a bit more desperate as the song goes on. In the end, it doesn’t work, and he leaves her alone on a Manhattan street staring after him.

  • "The Love I Meant To Say"
Sample Lyrics: "Over, I can't believe it's over/I can't believe the love I lived/To show some other day…Sorry, that's the word I want to sing to you/The other word is stay/To hear the love I meant to say"

Jesse ends up at another bar or club and meets a new girl (stand in for The Diva, but I can’t feel good calling her that in this version so let’s just go with Dee). They flirt, and he goes with her back to her place where they end up sleeping together. Even as they are, though, he’s singing a sad song of lost love and regret. He knows what he’s doing is wrong and will only make things worse, but he can’t help it: that’s just who he is.

  • "Reach For Me" (aka finally there's another character involved!)
Sample Lyrics: "I could fall in love with you/I could fall in love/In my dreams your dreams come true/Say you'll dream of us/Tonight when the bright stars are burning high over Manhattan/All washed out in neon/And hidden from view/But when the power goes out and you look up from Brooklyn/Will you reach for me/Reaching out for you..."

Dee, the girl Jesse met in the bar, is clearly more interested in him than he is in her. He can’t shake the regret he feels, and he bolts out of her place, but she wants more than a one-night stand.

  • "Original"
Sample Lyrics: "...There was a girl who blended in/That was the way her life had been/'Til she decided to be someone else/She wants, she wants, she wants to be original/She will, she will become something remarkable/Who cares, who cares, who cares what stunt she has to pull/She'll be remade as somebody original..."

Amanda, fed up with Jesse’s constant immaturity and stunts, throws herself into her work, leaving Jesse his usual time to cool off. He returns home, but he’s quiet and moody, and they don’t talk about the ridiculousness from the night before. She buries her responsibility in their flawed relationship and instead focuses on trying to reinvent herself—to magically make herself someone more interesting and together so she can pull her career together.

  • "I Heard Your Voice in a Dream"
Sample Lyrics: "...I could have loved you but you had the hunger/For life in the lights, so when they called your number/I couldn't compete with the spell you were under/Still I, I hear your voice in my dreams/So sing to me and I will forgive you/For taking my heart in the suitcase you packed/Sing to me like the lights didn't blind you/Like you blinded me when I heard your voice in a dream..."

Amanda leaves the city to pursue a work opportunity, still without having discussed things with Jesse. He is lost without her, but he’s still inclined to blame her and her ambitions for the way he feels rather than look at himself or work on himself for when she returns home. They really are extremely similar.

  • "Don’t Let Me Know"
Sample Lyrics: "...Holding onto you is that all I can do until/I learn the hands around my throat are my own/Don't let me know if it hurts/If it hurts you/I don't want to be your friend that you turn to/That you won't pull me close/But you can't let me go..."

Amanda returns home with a new energy and a somewhat new perspective on the relationship. She confronts Jesse about what they’re doing and if they think it’s really healthy that they’re still together when they want different things and don’t even communicate. He automatically assumes she cheated on him while she was away. Because he did. And he blurts out angrily that he did, which leads into

  • "Pretender"
Sample Lyrics: "...You must be drunk, did you forget your way home?/I'm not the one who's scared of being alone/Got me confused with someone who needs you/Might be the joker but I'm nobody's fool..."

Amanda’s full on pissed by Jesse’s admission. She assumes it’s not the first time it’s happened, just the first time he wanted to throw it in her face. It’s what she needs to find the backbone to break up with him on the spot.

  • "I’m Not Sorry"
Sample Lyrics: "...I'm not sorry, sorry/For the person I've become/Not sorry, sorry/I don't live under your thumb/It's time to stay the same/You can't take the best of me/Hate to break it, hate to break you, hate to break it to you..."

Amanda has moved out and is trying to convince herself she’s happy without Jesse but pangs of memories come back to her, and she has to remind herself of what he put her through. Meanwhile, over in a different part of the city, Dee, too, is realizing she dodged a bullet by Jesse being only a one-night stand after all.

  • "Caught in the Storm"
Sample Lyrics: "You can push me away I can take it/I can make you a promise and break it/We know the way it goes by now/Running off just to see if I chase you/I pretend I know how to replace you/Still we get tangled up somehow..."

Jesse finds Amanda at her new job where he makes a bit of a scene trying to get her to come back to him. She tries to reason with him, finally articulating what’s actually wrong with their dynamic for the first real time. She’s matured and moved on; he has not.

  • "Heart-Shaped Wreckage"
Sample Lyrics: "...Look at this heart shaped wreckage/What have we done?/We've got scars from battles nobody won/We can start over, better/Both of us know if we just let the broken pieces/Let the broken pieces go..."

Jesse and Amanda are in separate parts of the city, both reflecting individually on their relationship. Ironically, she gradually comes to the conclusion that though there’s been pain, she can still focus on what it felt like to fall in love with him, and she wants to try it again. He, on the other hand, gradually resigns himself to the fact that it’s really over. Now realizing he has truly lost everything and it’s his fault, during the final verse, he walks to the building from which he jumped in the opening number.

  • "The Goodbye Song" (aka a partially posthumous duet)
Sample Lyrics: "The time has come/I'm flying away/Mouth is numb/Heart don't know what to say/And although I'll be out of sight, dear/Know I'll be right here/Right here forever, ever, ever, ever/When you look to the night skies/Don't think of goodbyes/Think how I'm right here ever, ever, ever..."

Amanda, now the one filled with regret, sings over Jesse’s coffin, as his spirit watches her from afar. Though they both want to be together, they know they truly can’t, and they make their peace with it, each other, and their relationship as a whole as he is laid to rest.

Would you see this version of "Hit List?" Let me know your thoughts-- and your own interpretation-- in the comments below!

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