DIVA TALK: Chatting With On a Clear Day Star Jessie Mueller

By Andrew Gans
20 Jan 2012

Mueller in On a Clear Day.
photo by Paul Kolnik

Question: How would you describe Melinda Wells?
Mueller: She is absolutely fun-loving, and she always puts the best spin on everything. Even in the play, she has these moments where the audience gets to see her where she kind of comes up against a roadblock, but she always just acknowledges it and moves on.

Question: Just going back a little bit again, I wonder whether there were any actors or singers that you particularly admired when you started performing in high school or college… anyone who was an inspiration?
Mueller: Definitely my family… Well, I'm lucky that I love them and they're also extremely talented. [Laughs.] That makes it easy, but also, I got to grow up watching the great Chicago actors performing around town, so that was a huge inspiration. But, also, this role has been so fun because I love old movies. I mean, I wore out my tape of "Meet Me in St. Louis" — watching Judy Garland when I was little, and listening to Rosemary Clooney. "White Christmas" is one of my favorite movies, so I've always just had a love for that kind of golden era musical. Definitely, watching those people — I just love that stuff, so it's been really fun.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for your character? Is there something you look forward to doing?
Mueller: Oh, I love doing the dance every night with Harry and David. I love it. It's so fun, and we can feel the audience taking it in and being tickled by how we're all moving together and what's going on in the story. I think it's a really great way, and such a theatrical way, to express what's happening to these characters in the moment.

Question: Tell me a little about what it's like sharing the stage with Harry Connick.
Mueller: It's a total joy… Firstly, because of just how immensely talented he is, and people know that, but also, I just admire him so much because he always challenges himself. He's an amazing singer and piano player and he's an amazing actor, too, and he doesn't ever seem afraid to take on something new and challenging. He's kind of that way on stage. He's always right there with you, and I love being up there with him, too, because it makes me put on my A-game. You know what I mean? I'm singing with one of the great singers of our time, so I try to take that in every night and raise to his level. [Laughs.]

Mueller in On a Clear Day.
photo by Paul Kolnik

Question: I thought you were really terrific and your vocals were great. I wonder how much of the music style that your character sings in was fit around you or how much did you have to fit into what they wanted her to be?
Mueller: It was definitely a give-and-take. Larry Yurman, our music director — we had a lot of conversations about, "Okay, how authentic do we want to make this? How authentic can we make this? Will an audience accept something really of the period or are they going to want to hear something a little more modern or a little more bold in terms of what we accept as exciting music now?" And, I think they were amazing about letting me play with the music. We changed things a lot, and I actually have a lot of freedom every night, which I've never had before because I'm used to doing musicals where the music is really set. And, I have freedom in the show to really kind of improvise and change things up, which I've never had before, and it's really fun. But, it was both… They wrote within the style of the period, and they were really committed and interested in doing that to make it sound very different from the other songs in the show, and I was totally game for it because I love singing that kind of music. It was a great collaboration on that end.

Question: Will there be a cast recording?
Mueller: I don't know! I don't know. I hope so! I'm the newbie, so I don't know how these things work. [Laughs.] But, I hope so.

Question: How is morale backstage because the reviews were sort of mixed?
Mueller: I have never worked with such a delightful group of people, and I mean that… Personally, I don't read reviews. It's just something, as a performer, that I learned is good for me…

Question: Well, you got great ones!
Mueller: Oh! [Laughs.] That's very nice to hear, but I'm concerned with the response of the audience there night-to-night. That's what matters to me — the people in the seats. But, the thing that's great is, we all are so fortunate to have Harry and to be working with David and Kerry and Sarah [Stiles] and everybody. Also, the crew, the dressers, the house staff is lovely, our orchestra is amazing, so, you know, we all just feel so blessed and lucky to come to work everyday and work on the show, so we're all having a great time.

Question: Has there been anyone who's come backstage after the show that you were especially excited to meet since you're new to all of this?
Mueller: Oh, I had a wonderful experience meeting Jerry Stiller and his wife. They were so lovely and so touched by the show and said beautiful things. That's one that I'll definitely always remember. One night I got to meet Sandra Bullock, and Ralph Lauren I got to meet. There's been wonderful introductions to all of these amazing people who I've admired for a long time, so it's been fun.

Question: Are you working on any other projects at the moment or are you just focusing on this?
Mueller: I'm pretty much focusing on this. I mean, I also do voiceovers and things like that like a lot of actors. There's always things going on and always irons in the fire, but right now it's been nice to just focus on this.

For tickets visit www.OnAClearDayBroadway.com.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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