Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Jessie Mueller with Seth Rudetsky
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Inherit the Wind


Jessie Mueller
Photo Courtesy of Jessie Mueller and the Scottsdale Center
for the Performing Arts
Most Broadway stars spend a number of years working in the ensemble or playing featured parts in Broadway shows before being elevated to a lead role. So when Jessie Mueller made her Broadway debut as the female lead opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in the Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and got excellent reviews and a Tony nomination for her performance, it made many people, myself included, take notice. However, Mueller had spent several years playing dozens of roles in her native Chicago before heading to Broadway, and she spoke about those experiences as well as all of her Broadway roles, including her Tony Award winning turn as Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, in her recent concert at Scottsdale's Center for the Performing Arts.

With Seth Rudetsky as host and accompanist, the evening featured songs from almost all of Mueller's six Broadway roles plus others from shows she did in Chicago. Her vocal capabilities are superb and during the concert she showed that she has the ability to sing a wide range of music styles, from classic legit soprano musical theatre songs to popular rock tunes. Like past concerts in this series, Rudetsky asked Mueller questions between songs, both humorous and insightful, that allowed the audience to get to know more about her, her experiences growing up, as well as what it was like performing opposite such well-known actors as Connick and Matthew Broderick, and playing an icon like King.

Mueller grew up in Evanston, Illinois, where her parents were both actors, and attended Syracuse University before moving back to Chicago after graduating. She commented that she was given the ability to play a wide range of roles she might otherwise not have had the chance to play had she moved directly to New York after school. She delivered a spirited take on "Shy" from Once Upon a Mattress, which she performed in high school and also in a later production for which she earned her Actors' Equity card, as well as a soaring version of "Vanilla Ice Cream" from She Loves Me, which she also performed in Chicago.

While both of those songs featured moments of comedy, many others in her Scottsdale concert highlighted her versatility and wide range, including a stunning version of "It Might as Well Be Spring" from State Fair that Mueller sang as her audition song for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. She said that after she sang the standard version of the song for her audition, she was asked if she had a jazz song she could sing as well. Since she hadn't brought any jazz music with her, she asked the accompanist to "swing" the song and said she would just improvise something. She then delivered a rapid-paced alternate version of the same song that featured bits of scat phrasing and improvised moments that not only earned her the role but was also one of the many highlights of this concert.

She then sang "Ev'ry Night at Seven," which she performed in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, showing how her smart thinking with her audition song ended up being directly in line with how the songs for her character were delivered in the show. She also performed a gorgeous version of "Someone to Watch Over Me," which she sang when she replaced Kelli O'Hara in Nice Work If You Can Get It. Rudetsky asked her how she got that gig, since at that time she still hadn't had many Broadway shows under her belt, and she said that she believed that Matthew Broderick's wife Sarah Jessica Parker saw her in the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and suggested to her husband that she would be good in the part. Mueller also commented that she had a lot of fun performing in the show with Broderick as he loved when things would go wrong, including a few times when Mueller mistakenly sang verses of one of her songs in the wrong order.

Besides being an accomplished piano player, which he demonstrated in expert form at the concert, Rudetsky loves to ask about onstage mishaps, and Mueller spoke about the couple of times they had emergency interruptions in Carousel and had to stop the show, including one time when her character's husband, Billy Bigelow, had already died and she was comforting him, yet they had to clear the stage until it was OK to continue, and Joshua Henry, who played Billy, had to then slink back onto the stage and pretend to be dead again. Her performance of a pairing of two numbers from that show, "What's the Use of Wond'rin'" and "If I Loved You," was nothing short of exceptional.

As excellent as the numbers she sang from these traditional musicals sounded, it was the songs by three female pop composers that showed Mueller's wide range and chameleon-like vocal abilities. She sang two songs from Waitress, including "What Baking Can Do" and a showstopping performance of her character's powerhouse ballad, "She Used to be Mine." She said it was an honor to play that part and sing those songs as she was always a big fan of Sara Bareilles, who wrote the score for the show. Bareilles was one of Mueller's first backstage visitors when she was in Beautiful and Mueller felt it was almost surreal when she got the demo recording for the show, with the new songs from Bareilles, knowing that she'd be singing them on stage. She also sang a gorgeous version of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," which she and Rudetsky recently performed together at a charity event.

From Beautiful, Mueller opened the concert with "I Feel the Earth Move" and ended it with "Beautiful" and an encore of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." All of these classic rock tunes were delivered in rollicking fashion and sounded spectacular. She also spoke about what it was like on the night that King came to see the show—though she was supportive of the musical, King felt it would be too painful to see her life played out on stage in front of her, so she didn't see the show until it had been playing for several months. No one in the cast knew that King would be there that night, until she came on stage right after the curtain call. Mueller spoke about how meaningful an experience it was and how she just wanted to make sure she was doing justice to King and her story. It's moments like these in-depth personal stories that make this series of concerts, that are so much more than just a singer performing their songs, into memorable evenings.

Upcoming concerts in the Seth Rudetsky Broadway @ Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts series include Sutton Foster on December 14th, Audra McDonald on January 19th, and Jeremy Jordan on February 9th.

Jessie Mueller performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, November 17th 2018. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org


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