Jessie Mueller, last seen on Broadway in Tracy Letts' The Minutes, won her Tony playing Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Carole King in Beautiful—The Carole King Musical.
The Broadway favorite was also Tony-nominated for playing Julie Jordan in the 2018 revival of Carousel, Jenna in the Sara Bareilles musical Waitress, and Melinda Wells in the 2011 revisal of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which marked Mueller's Broadway debut.
The Illinois native has also been seen in the Kennedy Center stagings of Guys & Dolls and The Music Man, while her screen credits include The Post, Madam Secretary, Blue Bloods, Candy, and Patsy & Loretta. Mueller can also be heard on two new studio recordings: My Heart Says Go, a new musical that follows a first-generation college student who defies his father and drops out of medical school to become a singer-songwriter, and Diary of A Wimpy Kid, The Musical.
In the interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Mueller shares memorable moments from Waitress and On a Clear Day, and two teachers who helped her artistic journey.
Where did you train/study?
I started voice lessons in high school and then went to Syracuse University, studying in their musical theatre and acting programs.
Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor standout?
Absolutely! My high school acting teacher, Aaron Carney, treated us like artistic peers. He encouraged our individuality and gave us responsibilities to live up to. He believed we could, so we did. My college voice teacher, Tish Oney, also encouraged me to pursue my interest in all genres of music, instead of getting boxed in to a certain “type.” Both teachers supported me as a person and an artist. And I’m so grateful!
How did you get your first job in the theatre?
I went to an Equity open call in Chicago, just after finishing school, and got a callback. That ended up being my first professional show! It was at the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre in Illinois.
You made your Broadway debut in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Can you share one memory from working with Harry Connick, Jr.?
There was one scene where he and I had to freeze in between musical moments. The action kept splitting between David Turner in the present and Harry and I in the past, as David was describing this wonderful outing he had with Harry's character. I am no rock onstage. It got to the point where we could not look at each other in the freeze because we kept giggling. And then he would tease me because I kept looking away from him. But I couldn't do it!
How did the new studio recording come about?
I got involved with the studio recording of My Heart Says Go because I got a call from Matt Hawkins. He and I worked together in Chicago and toured with a show at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon. He said, "Hey, I’ve got this project I’m working on with this crazy talented young person named Jorge Rivera-Herrans." He played me some demos that Jorge had done, and I was so impressed. It felt like he was honoring what Jonathan Larson and Lin-Manuel Miranda set into motion and was making it his own. Plus, it was original music and an original story. That conversation started during the pandemic, and here we are. I’m excited to see what Jorge does next.
What is the most memorable day job you ever had?
Babysitting! I was so fortunate to babysit for so many of my actor friends’ kids early on. I have the best memories from those times. And I got to watch some amazing kids grow up.
Can you share a memorable onstage mishap from your time in Waitress?
One night in Waitress, after Drew Gehling and I finished "You Matter to Me," we started to move offstage. The automation was cued, and a glass mixing bowl that was on a table fell off and crashed to the floor. The next scene was the entire company arriving back at the diner for Dawn and Ogie's wedding! Big to-do, musical interlude, supposed to be this seamless transition... So Drew and I are backstage trying to tell someone we think there's broken glass on the deck, I'm trying to quick change into a very large pregnancy belly...It was a little bit of mayhem. Thankfully, Christopher Fitzgerald came to the rescue with a dustpan and cleaned up the debris. At his own wedding, no less! And thank God no characters were barefoot!
Is there a person or people you most respect in your field and why?
The people who know the work is important but not the most important thing. I find the people I respect as people are the ones I respect as artists. People who are kind and interested in the big picture, who follow a spiritual path and treat their work and those they encounter in it with respect and gratitude.
What advice would you give your younger self or anyone starting out?
Don’t compare yourself to others. Work on your own path. I still find that really hard. But if you can get a grasp of that early, to quote Dr. Seuss, “Oh the places you’ll go!”
What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
Balance is hard but worth fighting for. I missed a lot of life moments early on because of work. Weddings, funerals, time with friends and family. I wish I would have taken time off for those moments.