“Honestly, I laughed in my agent’s face,” says Abby Mueller of the moment her agent brought up auditioning for the title role in the national tour of Beautiful—The Carole King Musical. “I thought it was a joke.”
What made the prospect of playing singer-songwriter Carole King in the hit biographical musical seem so outlandish? Consider that Mueller’s sister, Jessie, had won the Tony Award for best leading actress in a musical a year earlier for the same role in the same show.
“Why would we even entertain this concept? That was honestly my reaction,” deadpans Mueller before letting out a wry chuckle. Of course, she said this on the phone from Washington, D.C, where she was in her third city and third week portraying King.
Though both sisters are now based in New York City, where Jessie received her first Tony nomination in 2012 for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Abby appeared in the cast of Kinky Boots, they are natives of Evanston, Illinois. Their parents, Jill Shellabarger and Roger Mueller, are also actors (Roger is playing Santa in the musical Elf this winter at the Marriott Theatre), as are brothers Matthew and Andrew, who recently appeared together in Peter and the Starcatcher at Drury Lane.
Abby started her career in Chicago, racking up half a dozen credits at the Marriott, including Cinderella in Into the Woods and Fiona in Brigadoon, along with other roles at Drury Lane and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. But she was the first Mueller to move to New York. “I adore Chicago, and I’m glad to be a part of that community,” she says. But Broadway “had always been part of my plan. I wish there was a way to combine the two cities. I really do. That’d be perfect.”
Once Abby realized her agent wasn’t kidding about auditioning for Beautiful, “I was very, very hesitant for a few million reasons,” she says, noting she did not want to step on anyone’s toes and wished to maintain her individuality. “Jess and I are very different, and anyone who knows us knows that.”
She cleared it with Jessie (“I was like, 'Can you believe this?' And she was like, 'Get out of here!'”) and also consulted her father before going in. “He said, ‘Look at the facts. Try to take other stuff out of it.’ And the fact is it’s a leading role, it’s incredible music and it’s a huge honor to even be considered.”
Carole King, who wasn’t part of the creation of the show, initially declined to even see it, but has since become a big supporter. In September, Mueller and the current Broadway lead, Chilina Kennedy, performed “I Feel the Earth Move” with King on Today.
“She’s very supportive now, but you have to imagine what it’s like to watch your life dramatized onstage,” says Mueller. “Obviously, getting to meet her, like, my head exploded.”
Beautiful is at the Oriental Theatre December 1–February 21.