Jessie Mueller on Broadway’s ‘Waitress’ and Her Initial Fear of Performing in New York City
“I hope that I put something truthful out there, with sensitivity and openness. I feel emotions deeply.” – Jessie Mueller on Broadway’s ‘Waitress’
Where does a Broadway actress go after winning a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical? Another musical, of course. For Jessie Mueller, who won the Tony for her widely acclaimed performance in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, her next role is the lead in Waitress, in which she portrays a server named Jenna. Mueller spoke to NJ.com about starring in another female lead-driven musical and reveals that earlier in her career she never considered Broadway a serious possibility for her.
Despite most theater actors seeing Broadway as the pinnacle of American theater, Mueller confesses that she originally steered clear of New York City. She reveals, “I had no urge to come to New York. That was very frightening to me.” Instead, she went to her home, Chicago, where she grew up. She explains, “I had been working there five or six years; things were moving along.”
Instead, Broadway ended up finding her. Director Michael Mayer was in the process of casting the touring company of American Idiot and his next Broadway musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Mueller recalls, “His casting director suggested that as long as he was seeing people for that show, he might as well see some actors for his next project.” She auditioned and was cast as the female lead, and even though the show was a flop it set her career in motion. She explains, “Looking back, I have so much gratitude. I was blessed to be able to come to New York with a show. It was a huge opportunity, but I was also freaked out. They were taking a big leap of faith in hiring me, not casting a star.” In fact, Mueller admits that she doesn’t know if she ever would’ve given Broadway a shot if she hadn’t been offered a can’t-refuse offer like this. “I don’t know. I just have no idea.”
What interested her about Waitress is how the material changed as it was being adapted from the 2007 movie the musical is based on. Mueller explains, “It becomes different, a theater piece. You can’t have close-ups, intimate shots of the characters, but instead you have them singing about their feelings. Music takes everything to another level. I’ve kind of fallen in love with Jenna. She feels like a real, normal human being. She’s not perfect, she’s just trying to do the best she can in life. She’s someone you can root for.” She then adds, “I hope that I put something truthful out there, with sensitivity and openness. I feel emotions deeply.”