Rachel Potter is an actress, singer, and songwriter best known theatrically for her roles on Broadway as Wednesday in The Addams Family and The Mistress in the 2012 revival of Evita starring Ricky Martin. She was also a contestant on the 2013 season of The X-Factor, where she placed in the final three of her age bracket and 11th overall. She currently plays Eponine in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's production of Les Miserables and recently released a music video for the song "Jesus and Jezebel" off her recent album Not So Black and White. We spoke with her over the phone about Broadway-caliber regional theater and dividing her time between musical theater and her solo career as a country artist. (Interview slightly edited and condensed for length.)
STAGECLOUD: So what brought you to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival?
RACHEL POTTER: Oh, it was kind of a random occurrence, actually. I was in New York and there was an audition my manager set me up for. I had gone in for Eponine, and I booked a show. It was just kind of like, “Sure I’ll go in for Eponine. I’ve done the show before. There’s not a lot of audition prep.” And it just went really well.
S: Do you think that as a country music artist you’re bringing something unique to the role?
RP: Yeah, vocally I think it sounds different than other people that sing it. A lot of people have said to me that they enjoyed that I brought more of a pop sound. So that’s really cool and encouraging to hear. And yes, I think vocally it’s just a different flavor.
S: So how does that compare to performing as yourself, when you’re singing your own songs? How does that compare to singing as another character?
RP: It’s definitely a different experience. I’ve been doing musical theater for so long, and I decided to go into country music a couple of years ago because I wanted to have the opportunity to sing as myself and to do my own music and play me instead of other characters. So I’m having a good time now coming back to it. It’s been a nice break to live in someone else’s world with their hardships and emotions and whatnot, and also bring my own personal experience to that character.
S: What makes this production of Les Mis unique? It’s a popular show, but this one feels unique.
RP: We definitely aren’t reinventing the wheel, but I think what makes this particular production really special is that I feel like this is one of the most talented vocal casts that I’ve ever seen in the show, so that’s really fun. For a regional production, it feels like a production that could be on Broadway tomorrow. All of the leads are so strong and such great actors and such great singers.
I sell my record after the show in the lobby, so I get the chance to talk to a lot of the audience, and they’re all saying that they think this is better than what they’ve seen before. That this is better than the Broadway production. That’s a really amazing compliment for a regional production in the middle of Pennsylvania.
S: I have to admit I never realized the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival existed on the scale that it does. It seems like this is a Broadway level show.
RP: I didn’t either. I didn’t really know much about the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. It’s at DeSales University so there’s there’s a company of students that are involved that are brought in as interns. And there’s a handful of Equity performers, a handful of non-Equity.
S: Now, from listening to your album it seems that it deals with a lot of themes about finding gray areas. Areas that used to seem like black and white paradigms. Are you able to bring any of that to this current show? I feel like some of those themes could apply to Les Mis.
RP: Yeah, especially for Eponine because what she really wants is to be loved by this man who is a completely different class than her, essentially. To be able to break that stigma. That you have to be with somebody in your class, that she’s not good enough for him, that kind of thing. Sadly it doesn’t work out for her, but I think it’s great that she has those dreams, and that she falls in love with somebody, and it’s not based on where they land in society. And Marius, in way, he does love her, and his friendship crosses that societal gap as well. And then Valjean moves throughout classes and has to find his place, and he doesn’t really accept the hardship that is placed on his back. When he leaves prison he doesn’t accept that that’s where he is in the world and decides to make a new life for himself.
S: So what’s next for you? Do you have anything else in the works?
RP: Well, I’ve got a new music video coming. I just put “Jesus and Jezebel” out in time for Pride. And next up I’ll be releasing another music video for my record, so that’ll be fun. That’ll probably go on CMT. And then in the meantime I also have a side project I’ve been working on called Steel Union. So we’ve been working on a project, and I think we’re going to get into the studio when I get back to Nashville. So probably for the next six months I’ll be sitting tight in Nashville just working on some new music and writing. That’s really my focus for right now. And hopefully next year a new project will be coming out. And as always I’ll be putting out covers and whatnot.
S: Do you feel that you are ultimately going more in the solo direction or more in the theatrical direction?
RP: I don’t know. It’s been interesting to get a taste of musical theater again, because I’ve realized how much I’ve missed it. I’ve been auditioning more and more for other Broadway shows. I think if the right opportunity came along I would never be opposed to coming back to New York and doing another Broadway show. I loved it so much. It’s a part of my identity and who I am and what makes me tick, and I certainly still have a great affinity and love for it. So, if the right project comes around, I think that I’ll be back. But in the meantime, it’s just a dream of mine to achieve success in the world of country music, so I’m going to keep going for now. But I do hope that I can come back someday soon to the Broadway world.
S: Well, you’re certainly on a roll in both areas. Thank you for talking to us today. And best of luck for the close of the show.
RP: Thank you so much!
For more information on Rachel, visit her website at www.rachelpottermusic.com. The music video for her song "Jesus and Jezebel can be seen here. Les Miserables runs to the end of June at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.