Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty

The curtains closed on Smash's first season with mediocre reviews, but the show must go on. With a major cast overhaul, including Jennifer Hudson headlining some big-name guest stars, things are looking up for Season 2, which returns to NBC in January.

Executive producer Neil Meron, who also produced the remake of Lifetime's Steel Magnolias, spilled some details at Magnolia's premiere. Hudson will appear in at least three episodes, playing a two-time Tony-award winner looking to change the direction of her career. She has ties to Karen (Katharine McPhee), Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Derek (Jack Davenport). The Oscar and Grammy winner will be "singing a lot" of original songs, says Meron, but he raved that the "really big high point in the first episode" is a classic — the recently released "On Broadway" duet with McPhee.

Real-life Broadway director Kenny Leon (Aida, Stick Fly, A Raisin in the Sun) makes a cameo alongside Hudson. "I appear as myself," he says. "I offer Jennifer Hudson's character a job, but I can't say more than that!"

The other major guest appearance comes courtesy of Will & Grace's Sean Hayes. "He's genius," Meron says of the actor/producer who plays a TV and movie star who returns to Broadway to expand his repertoire. "He's been embraced and loved on set as a person and as a talent." Meron won't spill if Hayes shares screen time with former co-star Debra Messing. "We're just at the beginning of the filming process, but we'll see if they have their scenes together," he teases.

Besides guest stars and a revamped cast, audiences can expect a whole lot of music — in all venues. "Just in terms of all forms of theater, we've expanded our arena so we're looking at off-Broadway and the concert stage," says Meron. "It's refreshed and revitalized, but it's still about this universe of characters that we introduced last season."

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