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‘Smash’ returns revamped, re−orchestrated, with new cast heavyweights

NBC hit ups the ante for second season

Published: Monday, February 11, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 11, 2013 03:02

Entering back onto the small screen after a seasonal break, “Smash,” NBC’s star on the Tuesday night lineup, is back in business — show business, that is.

Having been passed over at the Emmys for some of the major awards, including Best Drama and various best actor/actress nominations, “Smash” has returned with a strong will to better itself and a desire to trim away some of its fat.

Between its first season finale and this season’s premiere, the production staff has slimmed down its cast, cutting unpopular characters — namely Dev and Ellis — and puzzling side plots. In their stead, they’ve added star power in the form of Academy−Award winner Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) as well as Tony−nominated actor Jeremy Jordan. In the show, the “Smash” team plans to focus solely on the production of “Bombshell: the Musical,” which will follow Marilyn Monroe’s life in song.

The Emmy Award−winning musical drama series came onto the scene last year as an underdog series produced by Steven Spielberg and created by Theresa Rebeck of television and Broadway acclaim. Rebeck built a name for herself for her work on the play “Seminar” (2011) and the TV series “NYPD Blue” (1993−2005).

Fortunately for “Smash” fanatics, the leading ladies and their supporting characters have remained to orchestrate the drama that resonated last season. Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty, the dueling divas themselves, have kept their parts as Karen Cartwright and Ivy Lynn respectively.

However, this season the tables are turned. Answering the cliffhanger finale that left audiences waiting last season, Ivy is back — alive, but quite the dim−lit star, not the shining supernova to which the viewers have become accustomed. Meanwhile, Karen has filled the star role with ease. She has left Boston, and she was recently spotted enjoying New York’s limelight, for now.

But “Smash” has left no plotpoints unresolved from the finale. The compositional tag team of Julia Houston (Debra Messing) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle), last seen applauding “Bombshell’s” first full run, was thrown for a loop, receiving poor reviews. Their presence in the theater community at a low, the characters experience some tension that only slightly steers clear of melodrama. But as always, these two offer a level of authenticity in their performances that is sometimes lost by the greener cast members, such as Wesley Taylor and company.

What can make or break a live musical is its music, and, though TV shows aren’t staged, the same is true for a musical drama. “Smash” brought Joe Iconis, a composer of underground contemporary Broadway fame, on the composing team to aid Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman in writing songs for the show. Iconis creates a sound that straddles both the pop and musical theater worlds, allowing audiences to both engage with and tune into the show and its music, especially with songs like “Broadway, Here I Come.”

A main complaint about last season was that it devolved into hyper−drama too often. After witnessing an affair between Ivy and Karen’s fiancee Dev and Ellis poisoning an actress’s food in hopes of helping Ivy ascend to the lead, viewers asked for a little bit less crazy. “Smash” has certainly gotten the message, resolving the loose threads and helping all the characters to settle down back in the Big Apple.

But after the premiere of the second season, perhaps the series listened a little too well. Diminishing Ivy to a husk of what she used to be may have been something of a necessary sacrifice, but the competition between Ivy and Karen is what drove the show forward. Audiences will surely love if Ms. Lynn gets back up on her horse and fights for her well−deserved spotlight. “Smash” needs some “oomph” and Ivy is exactly the girl to belt it out.

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