Jessie Mueller (Photo: Jacqueline Harris)
By Tracy Antol
“Hello, South Florida! The weather was gorgeous today. Is it always this beautiful?” asked Seth Rudetsky at the beginning of his one-night engagement at Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse with Broadway star Jessie Mueller.
The audience responded with a resounding ‘Yes!” as Mr. Rudetsky sat down at the piano, replying, “Florida does a soul good.” Ms. Mueller kicked off the evening with Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” — a song that helped win her a Tony Award for Beautiful – The Carol King Musical. The simple set featured crystal curtains, a piano, and cozy seating for Mr. Rudestsky’s signature series, where he chats with Broadways legends old and new, intermixing songs from their repertoires along with a few unexpected twists and turns.
The general cadence was seamless: sing a few songs, tell a few stories and generally enjoy yourself. Is this how these two spend their off time? We can only hope. We learned a bit about Ms. Mueller’s family (everyone’s an actor!) and how she learned to find Carole’s voice within her own. Mr. Rudetsky’s third annual fundraiser for Voices for the Voiceless benefitting the You Gotta Believe foundation in New York was another great behind-the-scenes narrative. You Gotta Believe is a wonderful organization dedicated to youth in foster care. Cue Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” followed by “Shy” from Once Upon a Mattress.
Ms. Mueller then shared an audition tale from the Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. It’s an amusing misunderstanding of what a casting director means when they say “bring a jazz song” and you show up with “It Might As Well Be Spring.” The director then said, “Great! Let’s hear the jazz song.” Ms. Mueller, a true thespian, knew how to improvise. With a quick direction to the pianist and a jazzier version, Ms. Mueller successfully landed the role starring opposite the dreamy Harry Connick Jr.
After describing a sweet moment of theater graciousness on stage with Harry, we were heralded with “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me In St. Louis. Mr. Rudetsky knew this South Florida audience will always welcome a Judy Garland number with open arms. It was an apropos segue into “Vanilla Ice Cream” from She Loves Me (a musical adaptation of the play Parfumerie, which was, in turn, adapted into the film The Shop Around the Corner co-starring Garland).
The highlight of the evening for this attendee was seeing Ms. Mueller sing a few songs from the role she originated in Sara Bareilles’ Waitress. Those who haven’t seen the Broadway production were surprised to learn that there is an actual oven in the lobby at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. But you definitely don’t want to eat the lobby pie, which is overloaded with spices so the scent permeates the theatre. Ms. Mueller’s first standing ovation of the night was a heart-wrenching performance of “She Used to Be Mine”— the first song that Ms. Bareilles wrote for the show. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
After such an emotional ride, it was great to laugh wholeheartedly over “the show must go on” tale. According to Ms. Mueller, if an audience member is shouting in a loud deep voice “E-MER-gen-CY” from the back row, you do not stop. The show only stops if the stage manager calls it, which is exactly what happened at a performance of Carousel — right at the juncture where the lead character dies in her arms. The actor sheepishly rose from beyond and then reset after the audience emergency was addressed. “Don’t worry. The audience member was okay,” she assured us. But picking up the show from that juncture was awkward and comical.
Mr. Rudetsky also reflected on the PULSE nightclub tragedy with the story of how Broadway for Orlando’s “What The World Needs Now is Love” originated. To date, the song has raised more than $100,000 for families of the victims.
The performance closed with an encore of Carole King’s “Beautiful” and the timely lyric:
You’ve got to get up every morning
With a smile in your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Much love was felt after an evening with the talented duo. Catch Jessie Mueller February 6-11 in a concert production of The Music Man co-starring Norm Lewis at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Seth Rudetsky returns to The Parker Playhouse with Sierra Boggess and Ramin Kamilroo (February 8) and Adam Pascal (March 24).