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Meet the Tony Nominees: Jessie Mueller of ‘Carousel’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

The Tony-winning star reveals why this rapturous show continues to capture her heart

Jessie Mueller currently stars with Joshua Henry, Lindsay Mendez, Alexander Gemignani, Margaret Colin and Renée Fleming in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. Mueller is nominated for her fourth Tony for playing millworker Julie Jordan. Mueller, a Chicago native, comes from a family of actors. (She won a Tony for her performance as Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King story.) This powerful production, with riveting choreography from ballet superstar Justin Peck, has received 11 Tony nominations, including Best Musical Revival. 

Jessie Mueller and Joshua Henry in 'Carousel' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

Jessie Mueller and Joshua Henry in 'Carousel' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

Carousel shows people at their most flawed. You don’t shy away from that. And there is also redemption. Can you talk about doing the production, especially now?  
Jessie Mueller:
Any time we get to go back and reinvestigate a classic, the artist’s job is to investigate with modern eyes, modern sensibilities and modern psychology. We don’t pretend that bad things don’t happen anymore. If there is anything in our world we have realized, it’s “Oh yeah, bad things happen.” We see them every day. If anything is ever going to change and get better, we have to accept that these things happen. We have to see them with open eyes. The beauty of the piece is the love and redemption that comes through all this terror and pain. That is really what the piece celebrates. Until you look at the darkness you can’t really see the light. That is sort of the overarching beauty of the play.

There is a lot of raw honesty in Carousel. If you honor and delve into that, I hope it’s very satisfying and ultimately a cathartic experience for an audience. It’s certainly fun to be on the inside. You feel like you are honoring the daily trials of what it’s like to be a human being and everything that comes with that. It’s the stuff that always has drawn me to theater and keeps me coming back.

When did you know you had to be a performer? 
Jessie Mueller:
When I was little, it made sense to me. I was very lucky to be exposed to the arts. In my early education I didn’t necessarily have it in the schools I attended. But I knew it was there because my family and my family’s friends and colleagues are actors, I knew it was an option.

Then the older I got I thought, “Oh, gosh, is this sensible?”  I grew up living with actors. I sort of know what it was like. Sometimes you have a job. Sometimes you don’t have a job. Sometimes you don’t know when the next job is coming. It’s a cyclical thing. And it just never stops. But if you keep wanting to come back, you have to honor that.

Carousel is such a feast of experiences. There is Justin Peck’s glorious choreography, ballet dancers and Renée Fleming from the opera world singing. What is it like for all of you to come together in such a unified way? 
Jessie Mueller:
In the beginning, it was a little intimidating because I have been a fan of Renée’s work for many years. The delight, I think, for all of us, is that we’re coming from these different disciplines. It was like kids in a candy store. We would go up to each other and say, "OK, so wait a second, when you’re doing this,” or, “How long did you study?" We would ask each other about what we do and what we have specialized in or what we are learning now. It is such a generous group. 

Is there a piece of advice you wish you could told yourself when you were starting your career? 
Jessie Mueller:
All in good time. I think of all the anxiety in your life and career – should I be doing this? Should I be doing that? Should I worry about that?  But I believe there is a path and a plan. I would have liked to remind my younger self to trust in that. You don’t need to be anywhere else than the place you are. 

Do you have a dream role? 
Jessie Mueller:
I have been so blessed. Maybe if I had known those roles existed, when I was a little girl, they would have been my dream roles. But the beauty of this is many of them didn’t exist and were partially created around me. What more can you ask for? So maybe they are yet to be born.

What do you when you are not working? 
Jessie Mueller:
I like to be quiet. I like to sit on my back porch and look at the trees. I like to cook be and with my partner and just relish the time before going to work.

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