PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Annie Potts, Ascending to a Lifelong Dream with Broadway's Pippin

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Annie Potts, Ascending to a Lifelong Dream with Broadway's Pippin
 
Golden Globe Award nominee Annie Potts made her Broadway debut in the 2009 Tony Award-winning dark comedy God of Carnage. She returns this season, fulfilling a lifelong dream with the principal role of Berthe in the Tony Award-winning revival of Pippin.

Annie Potts
Annie Potts

Best known for her television work as Mary Jo Shively on the sitcom "Designing Women," Potts' film credits also include "Ghostbusters," "Pretty in Pink" and her Golden Globe-nominated performance in "Corvette Summer." Her stage appearances include the L.A. production of Aftermath, as well as The Vagina Monologues, Diva, Love Letters, Charley’s Aunt, The Merchant of Venice, A Little Night Music, Cymbeline and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.

Potts spoke with Playbill.com about taking over the high-flying role of vivacious grandmother Berthe in Pippin, originally played in the revival by Tony Award winner Andrea Martin and later by Tovah Feldshuh.

While she is known for her roles on screen, Potts confessed that it was her early dream to be a musical theatre actress; however, a devastating car accident at the age of 21, which broke both of her legs, changed the course of her career. Despite still feeling the effects of that accident, Potts has now come full circle with the juicy role of Berthe.

This role has been a long-time coming for you. I understand that you originally set out to be a musical theatre performer.
Potts: Yes. I started out really as a musical theatre person and then I was in a really dreadful car accident. Drunk drivers hit me and I broke both of my legs in a million pieces, so I didn't think I would ever have a career in this again. I certainly couldn't have ever competed as an ingénue. But now that I'm an old woman [laughs] I can come back! You know, I'm working through it. What a grace note in my career! What a thrill to be out there with these extraordinary people and get to do what I'd always hoped to do as a young girl.

For fans who mostly know your screen work, it might be a surprise to find out that you're a musical theatre lover.
Potts: I always loved it and I grew up doing this; summer stock and everything. And then, I couldn’t do it anymore. So I let it go. I had a very nice career doing other things that didn't include that, but there was always a hole in my heart. I missed it. I grew up, like a lot of other little girls, with a record player in my room with The King and I, South Pacific and all of that blazing away. I mean, it's the most fun thing in the world. Did you know what to expect when producers approached you about the role?
Potts: Pippin first came out when I was in college, but I was not quite prepared for what Berthe was asked to do in this production. So, as I watched Berthe ascend the trapeze, I thought, "Oh my God!" But of course, it's so fabulous. It's such a flight of fancy and whimsy, and an anthem for living life to the fullest. It kind of knocked me out, and I thought, "You know, who wouldn't want to do that?"

Potts in Pippin.
Photo by Joan Marcus

There's something very special about this revival. The way it's staged and cast, the production gives off a great amount of energy to the audience. What's it like stepping into that experience?
Potts: I'm sure thrilled to be riding on the coattails of the hard work that they put in in the last year-and-a-half, and I can hardly believe my good fortune. It's such a lovely cast. You know, it's not always like that. Matthew [James Thomas] is just heaven and Patina [Miller] and Terrence Mann and Charlotte d'Amboise, they’re all just royalty. But what really got me were these dancer-acrobats, these Olympic athletes who were out there doing what they're doing. Bodies are flying all over the place! [Laughs.] I spent the first week just trying to stay out of the way. I'm telling you, when you're in the wings, they squeal for delight for what just happened, and you know, they drop down and do 100 push-ups and throw their legs over their head and vault back onstage with such joy. It's like a tonic! It's heaven to be in that kind of energy, and I think the audience feels that.

What was it like climbing onto the trapeze for the first time?
Potts: I had to go up on it in the audition. I think they like to just hoist people up there to see if they are going to pee their pants. [Laughs.] I think some people do! A lot of people have height problems, and I've never liked them much, but for some reason the trapeze didn’t bother me. I can't explain it. You're up there without a net, or harness, or anything. But I do have the most divine boy who is up there with me who, I mean, I can make some pretty serious mistakes and still be safe with him. That's how good he is. He never stops working. All the performers; between shows, at intermission, they don't stop. They're working behind the curtain. And that kind of dedication really inspires confidence, so I just totally give myself over to him.

Do you find a personal connection to "No Time At All" with this dream finally come true?
Potts: Who couldn't have personal connections, especially when you're older? Live in the moment, grab it while you can. And it really is striking that [a] boy of his age at the time could write a song that has such a sweeping anthem for having such a positive take on life and living it to the hilt. Thank you, Stephen Schwartz!

What keeps you hungry as an actress and keeps you returning to the threatre?
Potts: There are a lot of different things; the script is a good place to start. The people. All of it; you know it’s kind of a harmonic convergence of things. Of course, you know, as an actress, especially when you're older, those good roles get fewer and fewer, so when something comes along like this, that’s so juicy that celebrates age and wisdom... Come on, that's a keeper.

And theatre, I love it more than anything. And nothing is scarier. Really, nothing is scarier in the world. Just to challenge yourself. I live by those words. Because early on in my career I had that little glitch, so I had to overcome something. It kind of set me up for life. It was very helpful to me because it really galvanized me. My anthem was like, "Hey motherf***ers if you think this is going to stop me, you are so wrong!" [Laughs.] So, honestly, I don't know – if that hadn't happened if I would have had that kind of result. So in a way, I'm grateful for it. Are there big musical theatre roles that you're dying to tackle?
Potts: Oh yeah. You bet. I don't think Auntie Mame has to dance much. I’d love to do Mame.

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