Evanston talent Jessie Mueller made it big on Broadway, winning the 2014 Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
She appeared in Animal Crackers and A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre before moving to New York for the revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
She is currently appearing in Waitress on Broadway. Singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles scored the music to the tale of Jenna, a waitress and pie maker in a small town. The all-female creative team has Waitress waiting on customers through March 26 and is nominated for a Grammy currently for Best Musical Theater Album.
Windy City asked her questions about the new show and more before she returns to her roots.
Windy City Times: Hi, Jessie. After winning the Tony, how did your life change?
Jessie Mueller: Opportunities opened up, and I got a preamble to my name! No: All kidding aside, I feel I have a certain respect from the community now. That's a very proud and humbling feeling.
WCT: How did all of your theater work in Chicago prepare you for New York?
JM: I wouldn't have wanted to start anywhere else. I learned from the best. And I got to focus on the work, not on box office sales, or competition, but the work and the craft.
WCT: Do you have a favorite memory of a past Chicago show?
JM: There are so many! It's really the people. Bernie Yvon sitting in a laundry basket before a kids show at 10 a.m., belting passages from a book on acting, as only he could, while we're all half-asleep and laughing so hard it hurts. Memories like that are my favorite.
WCT: How has it been working with Sara Bareilles?
JM: Sara has been incredibleso devoted, so involved. She was in the trenches with us! She was all in, there every day in rehearsal, creating the piece as a whole. I learned a lot from her.
WCT: So there are really pie smells piped into the theater for Waitress?
JM: Sure are. We bake a pie in the lobby! We get real up in the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
WCT: Are there plans for Waitress to tour?
JM: Yes; they announced plans shortly after we opened. I'm not privy to any other details, but stay tuned, the pie shop will be coming to a town near you!
WCT: Tell a funny story about Harry Connick Jr.
JM: There was a night onstage during Clear Day where he was delivering one of his last monologues, and he started saying lines from earlier in the play and was launching into an entirely different passage. There was about one more bar of music before I was supposed to come in singing, and I put my fingers to his lips and shushed him, "don't speak" style! I was trying to make it look romantic, but he had this look on his face like "what do you think you're doing?" and then it dawned on him what had happened, as I started singing. We laugh about it now, but I was terrified, thinking to myself, do I shush Harry Connick Jr to save the play?
WCT: What are your plans for the set list for the gala concert at Lyric? Will the "earth move under our feet?"
JM: We've got some surprises up our sleeves! And as for the earth moving, we'll just have to see, now won't we? I think that depends on how rowdy the crowd gets, but I have no doubt Chicago will deliver.
WCT: Are you doing anything fun while in town in Chicago? Seeing family?
JM: Unfortunately, it's a quick in-and-out this time. I have family coming to the show, but then it's back to New York to finish up my run with Waitress.
WCT: Beautiful is returning to Chicago this Christmas. Do you have any advice for the cast?
JM: Pack your thermals!
WCT: What project do you want to work on next?
JM: I always hope and pray for something that challenges and inspires me. I like working for and with good people who set the bar high, beyond that, only God can tell.
Mueller and other performers such as Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams are all part of the act at the Lyric Opera's Chicago Voices Gala Concert on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. Visit LyricOpera.org or call 312-827-5600 for tickets.
Mueller returns to Chicago on Tuesday, April 4, for the Goodman Theatre's annual Education and Engagement Luncheon. Visit www.goodmantheatre.org/elevated-events/1617-elevated-events/education-and-engagement-luncheon/ or call 312-443-3881, ext. 586, for tickets.