Final Bow: Jessie Mueller on Solving The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Admiring Kelli O'Hara, and Harassing David Hyde Pierce
The Tony Award nominee takes a look back at her time in the most mysterious show on Broadway.
Jessie Mueller made her Tony Award-nominated Broadway debut in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever in 2011, and then went on to star as the inscrutable Helena Landless in Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. TheaterMania spoke with the rising star about following in the footsteps of Broadway great Kelli O'Hara and the ins and outs of acting in a musical that allows the audience to choose your fate. And your lover.
1. What is your favorite line that you delivered?
That would have to be the night I flubbed my murderer sum-up. The original line was supposed to be, ‘Did I, in trying to save my brother, bring harm to Edwin Drood?' I think it came out as pure fact: ‘Did I try to save my brother and kill Edwin Drood?' No mystery, no nuance, no nothin'.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. So tell us…
a. What's the best one from your show?
Somehow, we nicknamed Gregg Edelman's character Crispy Sparkles. It sounded like a late ‘80s pop star to us. The marketing possibilities are endless!
b. Since there probably is one, what's the punch line of your cast's most unprintable inside joke?
If I told you, I'd have to kill you.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty to be experienced during your show and how was it handled?
I think we've been pretty lucky -- knock on wood. I have to say though, the cast has been incredible, because Studio 54 was descended upon by every flu and plague that was fashionable this season. Shout-outs are in order for our amazing swings Jen Foote and Justin Greer and all the understudies that went on.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
Someone gave me a song they had arranged.
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
I heard Barry Manilow came! I didn't meet him, but I love that he was there and found the time to come to our show while opening his own.
6. What's it like to not know exactly what role you'll be playing from night to night?
It takes a kind of energy I have never experienced in a show. It's deceptive that way. It's so much fun to do and, hopefully, to the audience it looks effortless. But the comedy is like math. Plus, you have to be on your toes, ready for anything. And yes, I go over my lyrics almost every night!
7. There's a lot of audience interaction in Drood. What was the best/funniest/scariest moment you had with an audience member?
The first couple of performances, I always went up to someone, unbeknownst, and sure enough, it would be David Hyde Pierce or Debra Messing. Some lovely famous person, and I would be thoroughly embarrassed and feel like I'd harassed them. But everyone was always a pretty good sport about it.
There was one night when Gregg said his murderer sum-up line and someone in the audience made the strangest noise I'd ever heard. It was like a dying goat, and it went on and on, and just when we thought it couldn't get any more ridiculous, it stopped and Gregg brilliantly said, "Thank you, Mother." It's moments like that you live for.
8. Who do you always hope you'll be paired with as a lover and why?
I think I've been lucky enough to be paired at least once with all the guys.The changing-up…is what I like. It keeps it fresh and I feel I'm more in the moment if I'm not repeating one pairing over and over. I can kind of forget what to do if it doesn't happen often, so that forces me to just go with whatever comes.
9. Who do you think Dickens actually meant to be the murderer and why?
You'd think by now I'd have an answer for this one. I really don't. I think there's some big twist, Edwin is still alive, and Crisparkle ends up being Rosa's father, and Puffer is Jasper's mother or something. Everyone ends up connected in a beautiful Dickensian Denouement.
10. You're about to star in Carousel at Lincoln Center with Kelli O'Hara and then you'll be replacing her in Nice Work if You Can Get It. What is the one quality of O'Hara's that you'd like to inherit?
Her groundedness --Is that a word?-- She finds time to be an artist, a consummate professional, a family person, and countless other things. I really admire that about her.