Quirky comedy queen Annie Potts has officially moved to the kingdom of Charlemagne! The Designing Women, Ghostbusters and GCB favorite is swinging high in the air as sassy granny Bertha in Stephen Schwartz’s Tony-winning musical Pippin. After making her Broadway debut in God of Carnage in 2009, Potts is back with a vengeance—not to mention a show-stopping sing-along number. Below, the actress chats with Broadway.com about her first foray into musical theater in four decades, sharing the stage with Broadway royalty and her nightly “nervous breakdown” before hitting the trapeze.
Congratulations on your first Broadway musical! Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl, and now I'm a very old girl.
We already know you’re funny, which is a prerequisite for this role, but what about dancing or acrobatic experience?
No, I had none! The reason I haven’t done a musical since I was 21 years old was because I was in a terrible car accident. A drunk driver hit me and broke both my legs in a million pieces, so there ended my musical comedy career…until now.
How did you know now was the right time?
Life is like a waiting game. I’m not an ingénue, and no one expects me to go bounding around tap dancing and stuff, so this role was well suited for me [laughs]. And actually, I’m able to do the trapeze quite easily, even with my injuries.
What was your audition like?
I guess some people are afraid of heights, so they like to hoist people up there just to see how they take it. It was fine! I have three sons and one of them has been doing trapeze for seven years, so I’ve spent many hours as an observer of that. Doing is a whole lot different than observing, of course.
You and Pink have a lot in common, singing upside down and hanging from the ceiling. Have you seen her act?
I haven’t seen her do it, but I heard about it from my voice teacher, who happens to be Pink’s voice teacher. I went to him and said, “Not only do I have to sing this, but I have to do it upside down,” and he said, “Oh, Pink, my other client does that, so don’t think you’re so special. Everyone’s singing upside down these days.”
You get the awesome job of coming onstage and completely stopping the show—what do you do backstage while you’re waiting for your big moment?
Oh, I'm just having a little nervous breakdown.
Because it’s scary! It’s a huge number and it’s quite a responsibility. Everyone else has been in this show for a year and a half, so they’ve got it down. It’s a little bit like jumping on a moving bullet train.
What was your first impression of this show and this cast?
“Holy sh*t!” That was my first impression. Then I thought, “Oh, what a great opportunity.” It’s a beautiful show, so beautifully realized, and the principals—that shiny, beautiful talented boy [Matthew James Thomas], Patina Miller and Terry Mann and his wife, Charlotte d’Amboise, they’re all royalty. It’s pretty swell to share the stage with them.
You and Kristin Chenoweth were so hilarious together on GCB—do you guys still keep up and stay in touch?
We do, and I’m a little nervous because she's coming to the show in a couple of weeks, and I'm hoping to be excellent for her. The bar is pretty high.
Would you ever want to do a Broadway show with her?
Are you kidding? I think we know the answer to that. Who wouldn’t want to do a show with Kristin Chenoweth?
Any Broadway dream roles you want to put out into the universe?
I would really like to do Auntie Mame, it’s a fabulous role.
What’s the biggest difference between TV and movies and live theater? What takes the most adjusting to?
The live nature of theater—there’s no retakes. Either it’s going to work, or you’re going to fall on your face. That does up the ante a little bit. But I like it all. It’s all good practice for life. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that really scares you,” so I'm following Eleanor’s advice right now.
See Potts in Pippin at the Music Box Theatre.