BroadwayWorld Chicago Looks Back: Reviews of Tony-winner Jessie Mueller's Chicago Stage Performances!
Between graduating from Syracuse University in 2005, and getting her Broadway break opposite Harry Connick, Jr., in 2011, Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller was a Chicago-based actress, following in the steps of her Evanston-based parents, Roger Mueller and Jill Shellabarger. And what a career she had in the Windy City!
From "Henry IV, Parts I & II" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater to "A Christmas Carol" and "Animal Crackers" at the Goodman Theatre, starring in "Meet Me In St. Louis" at the Drury Lane Theatre and winning a Jeff Award for her Amalia Balash in "She Loves Me" at Writers Theatre, Mueller rose to notice quickly and, it seems, inevitably. Her Tony win last night, for her portrayal of Carole King in "Beautiful," is just the latest in an increasingly impressive list of credits for the now 31-year-old.
I first reviewed a performance by Jessie Mueller for BroadwayWorld courtesy of Hyde Park's Court Theatre, where she won her first Jeff Award as Carrie In "Carousel," directed by Charles Newell. In my March 20, 2008 review of that production, I noted that "the evening's Carrie Pipperidge, Jessie Mueller, makes a strong impression, with saucer eyes and saucy delivery."
READ THE REVIEW: Court Theatre's 'Carousel': Moving But Earthbound
In three successive reviews of her work at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, the stature of her work grew and grew. Two years after "Carousel," on March 1, 2010, I reviewed "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Marriott, starring long-time Chicago stars Ross Lehman and Paula Scrofano, and directed by Northwestern University's David H. Bell. Check this out:
"And then, buckle your seatbelts! The fierce actress Jessie Mueller may very well be turning in a world-class performance at Tzeitl here--I cannot imagine anyone else with her combination of voice, acting chops and sheer gutsy chutzpah in the role. Her scene with Lehman in which Tzeitl begs with her very life, for the ability to marry her childhood sweetheart instead of a wealthy man she doesn't love, rocketed the show into the stratosphere. This first chink in the wall of Tevye's world was shattering, followed by bittersweet joy. Again--you simply must see it. This scene was one of many in which the honest acting of the entire company--surely one of Bell's strong directorial points--was thrillingly realized."
I kind of want to see that performance again!
READ THE REVIEW: Lincolnshire's 'Fiddler': A Must-See, With Quibbles
Eleven months later, on the same stage, Mueller starred as Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls," next to her older sister, Abby Mueller, as Sarah Brown. Their father, Roger Mueller, played the paternal Arvide Abernathy, in the production directed and choreographed by the young Matt Raftery. I quote from my review of February 14, 2011:
"The chief asset of this production is the Miss Adelaide of Jessie Mueller. Solidifying her position as Chicago's leading soubrette, Mueller is beyond superb in this iconic role. She captures the real woman beneath the ridiculous conceit of the character (engaged 14 years, with nothing but a psychosomatic head cold to show for it), and delivers the two "Hot Box" numbers realistically and professionally, with a great high mix singing voice. You don't want to miss her performance if you think that traditional musical comedy performance is on its way out. You are wrong."
I'd say a trend is definitely underway!
READ THE REVIEW: "Guys And Dolls" Comes Out A Mid-Winter Winner At The Marriott!
And then, four months later, came Mueller's last Chicago appearance to date, in the 1960s jukebox revue, "Shout!," reconceived, directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell. On June 27, 2011, I said, "Our newest musical star, Jessie Mueller, becomes a women here, taking moving material into unexpected avenues and gutsing it out with her superlative mix voice." OK, then!!
Jessie Mueller didn't finish the run of "Shout!," by the way. She had to move to New York, where rehearsals were underway for "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." The revised version of Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's 1965 Broadway musical, originally a vehicle for Chicago's Barbara Harris, began previews on November 12, 2011 at Broadway's St. James Theatre, opened on December 11, 2011 and closed on January 29, 2012. Mueller was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Tony, playing a role that included part of the material originally performed by Harris. She didn't win the award. But the rest is, indeed, history.
Mueller's Chicago stage family, and by that I mean her extended family of co-workers and fans here, cheered her on to Tony victory last night at parties and on social media. What is next for this young woman, now on the top of at least two theater towns? Your guess is as good as mine. But I wouldn't be surprised if the sky itself were not quite the limit. Congratulations, Jessie!
PHOTOS: From Top: Jessie Mueller and Ross Lehman in "Fiddler on the Roof;" Jessie Mueller and Abby Mueller in "Guys and Dolls;" Jessie Mueller, Brooke Jacob, Tammy Mader, Raena White and Carey Anderson in "Shout!"
PHOTO CREDITS: Peter Coombs and Marriott Theatre