The evening began with a medley of songs by fellow Tony Award winner and 2000 Siddons honoree Heather Headley (Aida, The Lion King) who sang "Home" from The Wiz followed by "songs I'm not allowed to sing on Broadway" — "Maria" (West Side Story), "Bring Him Home" (Les Miserables) and "Make Them Hear You" (Ragtime).
In tributes to Mueller, actor/director Matt Raftery said her "enormous talent is matched only by her kindness and humility" and Court Theatre artistic director Charles Newell said "her every performance, every night always has something new in it."
Before performing "Being Alive" (Company) and Carole King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," Mueller noted it was "lovely and special" to receive the award "on home turf where I had learned to challenge myself."
Mueller hails from "the first family of Chicago theatre" and the event, held at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL, also featured a salute to her parents, Roger Mueller and Jill Shellabarger, and siblings, Abby, Matthew and Andrew. "It was a very entertaining household with lots of music," Shellabarger told an appreciative audience. "Sometimes there were four songs all at the same time."
Abby Mueller sang "How Glory Goes" from Floyd Collins and Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain." Matthew and Andrew Mueller were a perfect princely pairing with "Agony" from Into the Woods and a hilarious odd couple performing "Sisters" from the film White Christmas, a family favorite. The siblings came together for a medley of songs from Roger Miller's Big River.
Another Tony winner and 2008 Siddons honoree Deanna Dunagan (August: Osage County) read messages of congratulations from Mueller's Broadway friends — Harry Connick, Jr., Audra McDonald, Chita Rivera, Carole King and director Michael Mayer, who first brought Mueller to Broadway with On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
The event concluded with Jessie Mueller and Headley's touching rendition of "The Prayer," and everyone returned to the stage for a rousing version of King's "I Feel the Earth Move."
Past winners of the Siddons, which was first awarded in 1952, include Helen Hayes, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Rita Moreno, Elaine Stritch and Bebe Neuwirth. All proceeds support the Sarah Siddons Society's Scholarship Fund for theatre students at Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University, Northwestern University and Roosevelt University.
Meet the talented brothers and sisters of the Mueller family.
• Matt is the oldest of the four. He's currently performing in Shining Lives: A Musical at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL: "It's a new piece, and it's very exciting to get first crack at it."
• He has a humanities degree (an amalgam of philosophy, art history, English) from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
• After being away from theatre for some years, he performed with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival ("I missed the relationship with the audience") and worked in and around Denver/Boulder before returning to Chicago in 2011 because of the wealth of Equity work offered here.
• He vividly remembers at a young age seeing his father portray John Adams in 1776 at the Marriott Theatre and going home and reenacting the show with his sisters, to his parents' amusement.
• He feels their family dynamic is unique and beneficial. "We talk shop. We have discussions about what worked and what didn't. We give it to each other straight."
• When it comes to musicals, he claims he is "incredibly untrained" and doesn't have a "legit musical theatre voice" especially compared to his sisters' "incredible instruments." He gravitates more to musicals with a folk/rock score.
• He loves the back-and-forth of ensemble work. Among his favorite shows are The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and Woody Guthrie's American Song, both of which he's done several times.
• Favorite sibling performances: Jessie in Beautiful ("Awe-inspiring in so many ways"), Abby in Brigadoon ("Hard to choose; she's done so much") and Andrew as Huck Finn in Big River ("A favorite family musical").
• Abby, Matt's twin ("She was a total surprise," says her mother), is a swing in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots: "It's the longest I've ever done anything."
• She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in acting.
• She remembers being obsessed with Mary Martin's Peter Pan when they were kids. "We watched it over and over and rehearsed it all summer on our neighbors' porch which made a great stage."
• There was a time when she thought maybe theatre wasn't for her, but a high school production of Hamlet in which she played Ophelia changed her mind. "That made a deep impression on me. I had to dig deep and figure it out on my own. After I saw my parents' reaction to the performance, I thought 'Maybe I'm okay at this'."
• There was never any pressure to follow in their parents' footsteps; none of the siblings performed as children. "Our parents encouraged us to try a lot of different activities."
• During college, Abby did summer stock at Rocky Mountain Rep ("It was amazing"). Her first professional job was at the Marriott Theatre playing French maid Babette in Beauty and the Beast. "That was a big kick because I had been going to shows there all my life. I felt like I had made it."
• She says she "tries to play real people on stage. Hopefully, I bring a realism and vulnerability to what I do that is relatable."
• Her mother is her best critic. "I usually ask her to come to a preview because she's a great actress herself, and I trust what she says. It's valuable feedback."
• Jessie, 32, made her Broadway debut in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and won a 2014 Tony for her performance in Beautiful. She is currently cast in the new musical Waitress, which is being developed at American Repertory Theater where it will open this summer.
• She graduated from Syracuse University where she studied theatre, art and music history.
• In 8th grade, she performed in Northwestern University's student-written Waa-Mu show All Grown Up and was dazzled by the experience: "I thought it was all pretty cool. There was all this energy onstage."
• Her first professional gig out of college was in the ensemble of Once Upon a Mattress at Drury Lane Theatre. "I couldn't believe I got an Equity job right out of college performing with people I had admired for so many years."
• Two big break moments: At the Marriott performing with Abby and their dad, Roger, in Shenandoah ("I finally had a role and a song") and later in New York with On a Clear Day ("That was huge. They really took a chance on me. It changed my career.)
• Her uniqueness sets her apart. "I think it's actually the things that are different about me that have ultimately made me appropriate for all these wonderful roles and opportunities."
• Their parents set a good example and helped the children understand the ups and downs of the theatre business. "We look out for each other. It's a lovely thing."
• Favorite sibling performance: Matt in Shel Silverstein's The Devil and Bill Markham ("I was blown away by his command of the role"), Abby in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers ("She was sassy, sexy and brash but still strong and warm") and Andrew in Rent ("Our baby brother was killing it up there").
• Bucket list: The King and I ("Loved the score as a kid"), Into the Woods ("Could do this one over and over working my way through all the roles") and My Fair Lady ("If the opportunity rose, I'd love to play Eliza").
• Andrew, 27, is currently performing in the musical Wonderland, Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure at Chicago Children's Theatre. He made his New York debut in the Off-Broadway staging of Peter and the Starcatcher playing Prentice, one of the Lost Boys.
• He is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in linguistics. "I haven't used that much, but I do correct people's grammar and tell stories about language they don't want to hear."
• He performed a bit in college but his main interest was Glee club ("Nothing like the television show"), which was "a lot of guys dressed in tuxedos singing songs in Latin."
• Nepotism got him back into theatre. Chicago actor (and family friend) Paula Scrofano told him about a theatre looking for performers who could act, sing and play guitar. That show was Filament Theatre Ensemble's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: A New Folk Musical.
• In many ways, his older siblings blazed a trail for him. In New York, Abby and Jessie were his support system: "They were always there if I needed them."
• He says the family zeitgeist is "to just be honest on stage, to just get up there and tell a story and reach people."
• He won a Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago's version of the Tony Award) for his Huck Finn portrayal in BoHo Theatre's Big River, a role he was destined to play. "It was always an important show for us as a family. We would listen to that soundtrack on family road trips and sing along."
• Favorite performance by a sibling: Matt in Shel Silverstein's The Devil and Billy Markham ("Transformative and transporting"), Jessie as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls ("A comedic, outlandish performance that I wasn't expecting from her") and Abby in Kinky Boots ("I saw her go on and she absolutely killed it").