Rebeck Redux: Smushed by Smash, Playwright Bounces Back With Katie Holmes-Starring Play

Theresa Rebeck (Emily Anne Epstein for The Observer)

The NBC drama Smash, returning for its second season early next year, offered a backstage look at a fictional Broadway production. Much of the show’s dramatic tension involved the musical’s writers’ effort to tell an honest story in the face of intense market pressure.

Creator Theresa Rebeck didn’t realize it at the time, but she was also writing her own epitaph as the program’s showrunner.

Like the Broadway musical at its center, Smash was also subject to intense commercial forces. The first season’s finale, in which the newly minted star belts a tune called “Don’t Forget Me,” turned out to be Ms. Rebeck’s last episode. Her departure was announced in March.

She rebounded quickly. By June, Ms. Rebeck, a prominent playwright—her Mauritius ran on Broadway in 2007 and her Seminar in 2011—was headed back to the Great White Way with a new play, Dead Accounts, which opens Thursday at the Music Box Theatre. The story of a Cincinnati family dealing with the ghosts of the past, its production boasts a rather Smash-ian twist: it’s the second Broadway production starring Katie Holmes.

Ms. Holmes is in the midst of a comeback of her own, having just survived the biggest and most contentious celebrity divorce of the past decade. That she’s chosen a serious turn on Broadway as her next chapter is particularly interesting, in that she is largely playing a supporting role.

“They just have to be able to act,” Ms. Rebeck said of casting celebrities. “I understand why it’s important to theaters to have actors of some visibility. I do. They just have to be really careful that it’s somebody that can do the part.”

Ms. Holmes’s character, Lorna, is quiet, small and very Midwestern, a compulsive dieter who receives a visit by her brother (played by two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz), back in town after a mysteriously lucrative time in New York.

Rebeck Redux: Smushed by <em>Smash</em>, Playwright Bounces Back With Katie Holmes-Starring Play