It's been 7 months since Smash's swan song aired on NBC and somehow, in the fat lady's aftermath, all the things I hated about the series (ludicrous plot twists, inexplicable character motivations, "dramaturgs") have faded away and I've come to find an enduring appreciation for the show's seriously splendid songs.
While Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe musical at the center of the series, scored a proper CD release, Hit List, the season two musical that served as stiff Tony competition, never received the same treatment despite boasting infectious tunes that could absolutely hold their own on The Great White Way.
Now, 54 Below, in cooperation with Smash EP Josh Safran, is giving Hit List the proper stage it deserves with four sold-out performances, starring Jeremy Jordan, Andy Mientus & Krysta Rodriguez. I caught up with Jeremy Jordan this weekend to talk about the excitement -- and vindication -- that comes from stepping back into Jimmy's shoes, to find out what he's taken away from the Smash experience and learn how it directly translated into his next role: as Jamie in the big screen musical The Last 5 Years with Anna Kendrick.
ETonline: How did Hit List come back to life?
Jeremy Jordan: Our producer, Jenny Tepper, worshiped 54 Below and was a crazy, crazy Smash fan and she has a bit of influence in the Broadway and cabaret community. Josh, our creator, reached out to her and they figured that they'd put it together for the fans and everybody kind of wanted to have that pay off. You watch the show being created from the ground up and you don't actually get to see the final product. I think it's cool we now get to show them the final product.
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ETonline: What was your reaction when Josh called to present the idea to you?
Jordan: We'd talked about it a couple times before; just as like a fun, kind of "What if?" So I was really stoked because we'd never really performed any of the songs live, we'd record them in a booth and then lipsync on stage. And since Krysta, Andy and I were the newbies, we'd always kind of stuck together and this felt like our baby. I'm so excited we get to perform it for an audience that we know is going to be so excited to be there as well and cheering for us; we'll probably all pee in our pants [laughs]. That's going to be a really great feeling when we are able to perform it live for an entire audience of lovers.
ETonline: Were you surprised that tickets sold out so quickly 54 Below had to add additional shows?
Jordan: No, not at all. I mean, 54 Below is a very small venue and 150 seat and millions of people watched the show. I was happy it sold that fast, but I was not at all surprised.
ETonline: Are fans still approaching you about Smash?
Jordan: Oh yeah, all the time. People really love Smash and sometimes it surprises me because of the negative reactions, but we got a lot of positive reactions too, so it's a good reminder that a lot of people loved it even with all the hate talk.
ETonline: What was it like working on the show amid all of that negativity?
Jordan: Well luckily for us, we were pretty much done filming by the time like the third or fourth episode was airing. So we didn't have to deal with a lot of that flack. Making the last 2 episodes was a little tougher because the first couple episodes that had just started airing didn't get the reception we were hoping for but we just kept hoping people would start to watch and things would turn around. It was like a two part process; there was the excitement and drama of putting this show together, with all the changes in an attempt to improve the show and then there's the whole other side, which is the reception and watching it back with the fans. That was two very, very different experiences as an actor on a show. It was very, very humbling for sure.
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ETonline: I know Jimmy was originally conceived as a slightly different character, so with that in mind, what did you think of his season long arc?
Jordan: : I thought it was redemptive by the end and I'm really glad they kind of turned him around. But, the fact of the matter is, you're right, when Josh first approached me with the character, he was very different because the show was going to be much darker. Honestly, it was much darker than the network was going to allow it to be. We always kind of knew that, but we kind of had hoped that we could maintain as much of the dark quality that we could. So it was a battle and I started to understand why, a lot of times, you hear that actors don't know what's going to happen with their characters before they read the scripts. It's because the writers and producers are protecting the actor from all the things that could have been. I had a lot of "What Could Have Been" moments with Jimmy but I'm glad that we ended it on a high note. You got to see Jimmy in a state of acceptance, which was nice.
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ETonline: I agree with you, but almost wish it had happened earlier in the season. What do you think about the criticism that Jimmy's 11th Hour Redemption made it tough to like him for all the preceding episodes?
Jordan: I don't know, I mean, I think Jimmy's going to be Jimmy. That's just how he is and sometimes you have to have characters that people aren't going to like as much in the beginning but they still have a purpose in the story. You have to kind of take a step back and put your ego aside and know that your character is serving his purpose in the grander sense. And that was hard to do at first you know, because I tend to play much more charming characters and Jimmy was a bit of a challenge because he has that charm in him but he kind of refused to let it out. The chips fell where they did and that was how we decided to tell our story.
ETonline: Which song were you most excited to sing again?
Jordan: What's crazy is all the songs are hits. We've been rehearsing a lot, and in any other show, our songs would be considered the best song in that show, but they're all in one show, which is amazing. Throughout the process, my favorite song has always been Don't Let Me Know, which is such a beautiful, well-written song. Of course I always love Broadway, Here I Come. That was kind of a definitive moment for me; it was the moment that introduced me to national television.
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ETonline: You'd obviously done tremendous work on stage, and had starred in Joyful Noise before Smash, but how do you think the show helped you professionally?
Jordan: I will say, I don't think I would have gotten The Last 5 Years if it wasn't for Smash. I think that my chances of getting that would have been dramatically decreased because they wanted a big star. I had to go audition a bunch of times but we had footage to show the [producers] of Smash, and even though Jimmy might not be as charming as Jamie, I was able to show them what I could do on-screen.
ETonline: I'm a huge fan of The Last 5 Years, and I'm wondering how you describe your version of Jamie in comparison to what Norbert Leo Butz did with the character on stage?
Jordan: Well, I should start by saying that I never actually saw him in the show, so I can only talk about what I've heard and seen. I think my version of Jamie is a bit more youthful. A bit more of a realist. The character spans ages 22 to 2 and when you're young, you have so many things going for you and to sort of tie yourself down at such a young age can be a little bit of a gamble, especially when Cathy comes into the picture. So, I would say that the biggest change of my Jamie is his sense of humor and his goofy childish quality, which I really enjoy and how I kind of see myself. I tend to be like that a lot, especially in a relationship. You know you put on a facade for everybody else but when you are with somebody that you trust and really care for, you kind of let it all go and you can be your true goofy and zany self
ETonline: Given the voracious response to these performances, do you think there might be more life in Hit List?
Jordan: I wouldn't be surprised if we did it again somewhere. I mean, I can only wish the best for things I love and I've been a part of and I think it would be very cool and interesting to see it on a bigger stage one day.
For details on 54 Below's Hit List staging, and other upcoming productions, click here.