By Paula Schlueter Ross
Jessie Mueller — a “daughter” of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Skokie, Ill. — won her first Tony Award June 8 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Mueller, 31, won the award for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical” for her portrayal of singer-songwriter Carole King in the show “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Mueller also was nominated in 2012 for a Tony Award, the annual competition that recognizes outstanding Broadway theater productions and performances.
In her acceptance speech, Mueller first thanked God, “because without Him nothing is possible — and that is true, and that will always be true.”
Among others she credited, including co-workers and family, Mueller cited King, with whom she performed the song “I Feel the Earth Move” earlier in the show.
“You have taught me so much, teach me so much every night I get to go up on stage and try to go through what you went through,” Mueller said. “And to come out of it with kindness and love and forgiveness and a pure heart — you’re just such an amazing woman.”
The musical — still showing on Broadway at least through January 2015 — depicts the struggles and successes of King, who did not begin performing her own songs until after a difficult marriage to songwriting partner Gerry Goffin ended in divorce.
St. Paul’s pastor, the Rev. Matthew J. Conrad, said most, if not all, of the congregation’s members — including him — were watching the Tony Awards show on TV, and he received a few text messages from members when the young singer-actress credited God at the start of her speech.
“Knowing her, and her faith, and how important that is” made it “very touching,” Conrad told Reporter. She and all of her siblings are very down-to-earth Christians, he added.
“As talented as she is, she just sees herself as blessed,” he said.
Mueller’s three siblings (twins Abby and Matthew, and brother Andrew) and parents, Bill and Jill, also are singers and actors.
The four Mueller kids all attended St. Paul’s elementary school from kindergarten through eighth grade because “we wanted our children to be able to have God be a part of the conversation every day, not just Sunday,” said Jill Mueller.
She adds that she and her husband are happy they made that decision: The children, she said, “got a great education and it was a small and very caring environment.”
Jessie — the family’s “middle child” — moved to New York in 2011 and has had, according to Jill, “a lot of great opportunities” since then, such as acting opposite Broadway stars Harry Connick Jr. and Matthew Broderick and performing in Central Park.
Still, winning the best-actress Tony was a bit of a surprise to family members — including Jessie — who “was up against the pre-eminent leading ladies on Broadway,” noted her mother, seasoned singer-actresses Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel and Kelli O’Hara “who had more experience, more nominations” under their belts.
Her daughter — who had been doing numerous pre-Tony interviews as well as performing eight shows a week in “Beautiful,” “was just hoping to live through that evening,” Jill laughed.
“But it was indeed very thrilling when she won,” she added, especially since she and Bill were in the Radio City Music Hall audience that night.
The couple really wasn’t surprised when they heard their daughter start off her acceptance speech by thanking God.
Says Jill: “This is a tough business. And you have very little control over your career. You’re constantly auditioning, every day of your life. So you better find something that gives you some strength.
“Jessie is a very faith-filled person and she certainly depends on God and centers herself there. And gratitude, I think, is a real big part of her life also.”
And while no one is certain what the future holds for Tony-Award-winner Jessie Mueller in the unpredictable roller-coaster realm of show business, her mother says, “I think she’ll have a career.”
Posted June 20, 2014