Andrew Mueller on the magic of Peter and the Starcatcher, his inner nerd, and what musical his talented family should take on together

Andrew Mueller

Andrew Mueller

Andrew Mueller is currently owning the stage as the goofy and lovable sidekick Prentiss in Peter and the Starcatcher at New World Stages. After passing its 200th performance mark recently, it was announced that the production will be closing in Jan. 2014. Andrew, who is part of the ridiculously talented Mueller family, spoke to StageDoorDish about his wild flight in the hit production. His effortless humor and humble disposition shone through as brightly as StarStuff itself.

SDD: Did you see Peter and the Starcatcher on Broadway originally?

AM: I did, actually. I saw it twice. I did the ticket lottery and I won both times. I never saw it with Christian Borle. I saw it with Matt Saldivar and loved him, loved everybody. I fell in love with the show. To be able to do it is pretty cool.

SDD: Is it true that your brother [Matt Mueller] is in a production of it as well?

AM: Yes. I had no idea how Utah Shakespeare Festival did a show, where it is still going in New York and now going on tour. Somehow, they did it and my brother is Mrs. Bumbrake at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

SDD: Did you happen to see that as well?

AM: Unfortunately, no. I don’t have the chance to get out there. He started in the beginning of the summer and he’s running through mid-October. I don’t really have a time I can go catch that.

SDD: Have you two been able to discuss the play? Differences in your productions, things like that?

AM: A little bit. I was trying not to give away any trade secrets, of course. That was also just so funny because he’d also seen the show and loved it. It’s very strange. My whole family is actors and we have done the same show before. My mom and dad have been in 1776, for example. My sister has been in 1776, just not at the same time [as my parents]. Some other family members have been in the same production of a show but we’ve never been in the same play in different places at the same time.

SDD: Can we talk a little bit about your family? It’s unbelievable how talented you all are.

AM: They are so much more interesting than I am.

SDD: Does it ever get competitive or is everyone just supportive?

AM: I have never felt competitive with my family. I’ve always felt very supported by them and I hope I’ve been supportive of them. It’s kind of cool when we can kind of all just talk ‘shop.’ We get to see each other’s shows and then talk about them, which is very cool. We can say, ‘Oh I love what you’re doing here’ and ‘I love this direction, I love what is going on here but not here,’ and hopefully we all know what we’re talking about.

SDD: How do you feel about Jessie [Mueller] headlining Beautiful? Have you gotten any inside information about that production?

AM: I have very little inside info, apart from the fact that she is going to be really, really good at that. I don’t think there is a style of singing that she can’t do. She’s doing the jazz singer thing that she has practiced her whole life. She grew up listening to all of that. I just don’t think there’s a time period or style that she can’t sing because she is a synthesizer. She can make any sound with her voice.

SDD: Growing up, did you all get into theatre around the same time?

AM: Not around the same time. I’m the youngest, and that’s all I’m going to say because I can’t give away how old anyone else is. By the time I came around, they weren’t putting on shows in the backyard anymore. They’d gone past that. Most of us really started doing shows in high school. We all went to the same high school, obviously at different times. There was one production of Oliver! that the high school that we all went to did where Abby and Matt were in the play. I was not in high school yet but they went and got middle school kids to be Oliver and the orphans. I was Oliver, so I got to do a show with my brother and sister while they were in high school at their high school while not in high school. I was a very chubby starving orphan.

SDD: Is there any other musical that you could picture the four of you doing together?

AM: I wish. I think the time for all of us to do The Sound of Music has passed. I think we’ve aged out of the Von Trapp family. It’s been joked that it needs to be written because I don’t think it exists. So many of the musicals will revolve around romantic relationships and we don’t want to get into that.

SDD: What was it like for all of you to see Jessie make her Broadway debut?

AM: I’d seen her do things before and every time I see her do things, I’m like, ‘Okay, I didn’t know she could do that, too.’ At this point, I just assume she can do anything. She got up in there in that dress on that stage with Harry Connick Jr. and I was like, ‘That’s my sister! She looks and sounds amazing. She was just perfect for that role, I think. A lot of people were very supportive of her and I suppose they agreed. It possibly should have been more surprising than it was, but seeing her do it, I was like, ‘Yup, that’s what she does. Of course she’s doing that.’

SDD: How did your family react to seeing you in Peter?

AM: They loved the show. They like me, too. At this point, I was like, ‘Guys, you keep getting these wonderful opportunities.’ I think there’s a certain amount of disbelief in the support at this point, not that we’re at some sort of lofty level of success. Everybody was like, ‘This is so cool! You get to do this play. You get to do this off-Broadway. What a cool experience!’ I was like, ‘I know, right? I love this play! This group of people is really amazing and I’m really enjoying it.’

SDD: Did you notice any differences after seeing the Broadway show? Are there any huge differences between your production and the Broadway production that you can recall?

AM: The pineapple on the proscenium has fallen. One of the great things is that, while there was a framework of how the show works, like where you hold the ropes and push the ladders, the directors very much let us be the characters in our own way. We didn’t necessarily have to do exactly what our predecessors did in the roles. I think the biggest change that I can remember is the interplay between the Fighting Prawn, the king of the island, and his son, Hawking Clam. That interplay has changed a lot just because of the actors who are doing it. They found little gags to throw in that mess with the status of the two characters to two great effects. That’s the only thing that sticks out at me. Rick Holmes, the guy who plays Black Stache, sometimes just goes completely off the wall toward the end of the show in the best way possible. That’s always different, and you can never predict what he’s going to do except that he’s going to be hilarious. It’s never going to be the exact same thing that someone else did.

SDD: Did you ever talk to Jason Ralph about your character Prentiss since he covered the role on Broadway?

AM: A little bit. Jason just recently went onto other things. He was Boy in this production. We had little discussions about Prentiss. Early on, he was very helpful. I would always ask him and he would never butt in. I would say, ‘Hey man, what am I supposed to be doing here? They’re not giving the most definite thing I should be doing. Do you remember what happened here? I’m lost.’ I’d also ask, ‘How do I get this prop from here to there? I don’t know how to do it.’ At that point, he was very helpful, just because he knew so many tracks of the show. Being a swing in this show just must be mind-boggling. I can’t imagine how anyone does it, so my hat is off to them. He was never like, ‘You’re doing that poorly and you should do it like this.’ He never told me how to do the character, but he was helpful in giving me the bones of things.

SDD: How did it feel being in this production surrounded by people who had performed in the play on Broadway?

AM: Everyone was actually very welcoming. It was a very interesting feeling. At the beginning of rehearsals, it was very helpful to have people who had done it before just because throwing a bunch of new people into this finely tuned, frenetic show where everyone is constantly on stage is a lot of work to make everything seem like a low-tech storytelling theatre. To have people who have done it before was almost invaluable at the beginning of the process. I don’t know how the people on the tour did it, with a bunch of people coming in new. My hat is off again to them. Having people like Matt d’Amico and Kevin del Aguila and Rick Holmes and Evan Harrington was super helpful. They had a feeling of what the show has been and what it can be and, at base, what it still had to be. They were able to help us get it up on its feet and were still able to let us play. They were never like ‘No, you have to do it this way because otherwise, that messes with my joke or my motivation here.’ They let us play with what we could do in the scenes now. It was pretty cool.

SDD: Do you or the cast have any pre-show rituals?

AM: It’s not really a ritual, but we always have a family meeting on stage, which I enjoy. I’ve never really done that with any other show. It’s right before the fight call. Twice a week now, we run the fight sequence. We basically run some of the harder physical things just to make sure it’s still in our bodies. Once we’ve done those, we just stand around in a circle and we announce what understudies are going on because a lot are going on all the time for one reason or the other, and they’re all fantastic. Then, we just talk about the show and things like, ‘This scene has been feeling different lately. I’ve been getting hit with props here. This is getting out of light.’ We’re able to talk with each other and iron things out. This is the first time I’ve done a show for this long, and when you run this long, things just sort of morph sometimes. Things like, ‘We’ve gone upstage too far, let’s get back to what we’re supposed to be doing.’ Sometimes, things that work better will evolve. It’s cool to have that forum at the beginning of each show to check in and fix anything that’s gone awry. Other than that, I don’t really have any rituals that I do. I just spend a lot of time putting gunk in my hair for this show because I have this crazy kind of emo haircut that sticks up in the back. It’s high maintenance.

SDD: The show is so demanding, and with what you said about getting hit with props, has anything like that happened to you?

AM: Nothing bad has happened to me. Some of the people who have more physicallydemanding things have been hurt. There’s a lot of tossing people over their heads and sometimes people get knocked with props or pieces of the set. Some acrobatic things have not gone as well as one would hope. People have gotten a little bit hurt, but everyone is still doing pretty well, I think. The injury list, if anything, is pretty easily rectifiable.

SDD: Have any of the original cast members or creative team come to see the show?

AM: The original creative team actually helped us get the show up and running, which was great. Roger Rees and Alex Timbers were there. They helped get the show up and they watched it throughout the previews. We didn’t really have a set preview period, but they were there for several performances. They come in to keep us in line with how the show should be. Some of the previous cast members came. I know Celia Keenan-Bolger was there and I think Christian Borle came. I think I saw Matt Saldivar there once. Carson Elrod was there, Teddy Bergman was there. Greg Hildreth was there early on. Celia especially said some very nice things about how the show was. She had never seen it because she was in it for so long and she’d never actually gotten the chance to see the show. That was super cool. There have been a number of people who worked on the show earlier or on the staff who have seen this reincarnation of it. It seems to be positively received. That’s always good to hear because there is a certain amount of legacy that you want to carry on while doing your own thing.

SDD: Have there been any other exciting people who have seen the show? Have you been starstruck yet?

AM: Not that I have been star struck by. I’m trying to think. No, I personally have not been starstruck. I don’t get super starstruck. I’m lying, I totally get starstruck. I’ve met some of the people that my sister Jessie has worked with, like Amy Adams. I was a mess. When she did Into the Woods with Shakespeare in the Park, I couldn’t talk. ‘You’re Amy Adams, and I’ve got nothing to say to you other than you’re great, but we’re still talking and I don’t know. I should be better at this.’

SDD: Have you had any memorable experiences being on the other side of that with fans of Peter?

AM: The fans of Peter and the Starcatcher are magnificent. I just mentioned anecdotes of me meeting people who are confident performers and I would not put myself in that position in relation to other people. The fans are fantastic. A lot of the time, there will be people waiting outside the stage door like, ‘Can I get your autograph? Can you sign this?’ There’s a t-shirt in the merchandise booth that says ‘I’m the Leader,’ which is something my character is definitely trying to be all the time. The fans will say, ‘You’re my favorite!’ The great minority of people who see the show will like Prentiss the most, but there are a couple of people who are like, ‘You’re my favorite! You made me laugh so much.’ Just last night, as I was walking down the street, someone loudly called out to me and referenced a line from the show. Once again, it was surreal to walk around Midtown Manhattan and have people be like, ‘Hey, I love that show you were in! It was so funny.’ There are so many other cool people they could be talking to.

SDD: Following Peter, is there anything else you could see yourself doing next?

AM: I am wretched at planning ahead. Off the top of my head, I don’t have any projects lined up because hopefully, the show will run for as long as it can and as long as it shall. I don’t know. I came from Chicago and part of me would like to work in Chicago again. Certainly, you can’t understate how amazing the theatre scene in New York is. It’s been kind of a dream. I’m very cognizant of how fortunate I am to be able to come in and do a show of this quality. It’s well respected. I think a large part of me would like to work in Chicago again because it feels like home. Not that New York has not been welcoming, but that’s what it is.

SDD: Since you went from Chicago to New York, was it reassuring to come in and already have a support system established, since your family is in the industry?

AM: I cannot imagine myself being here without the support system I’ve been given. I am hugely, hugely grateful for it. My parents and my brother and my sisters have all blazed a trail for me that I cannot understate. I thank them for it and I probably don’t thank them enough for their support. They’d be like, ‘What are you talking about? Whatever.’ They’d probably dismiss it but I’m very grateful.

SDD: What’s interesting is that when parents are actors, sometimes they’ll discourage their children from going into that profession.

AM: My parents never pushed us into it, certainly. I guess it was just what seemed normal, which it’s not at all normal. It’s not normal in the slightest. No, they never really actively dissuaded us from anything we wanted to do. They were laissez faire in that sense. I’m sure if I had done anything else, they would have been very supportive then, too. They were very supportive when I was in college and wanted to be a linguistics major, because I found it very interesting and I wasn’t that studious. They were like, ‘Oh, that sounds so cool and so smart. You’re going to be the scientist in the family.’ I was like, ‘Ha ha, nope!’ Then I was an actor again. If somehow they wanted a doctor or a lawyer or something, they’ve done a very good job of being supportive despite that. I think they’re just honestly supportive no matter what.

SDD: Do you have a preference between straight plays and musicals?

AM: I love musicals. I’ve probably done more musicals than I have done straight plays. I’ve just been more exposed to musicals. Growing up, I’d go see a lot more things that my family would be in or my family friends would be in. A lot of the time, those would be musicals. I certainly don’t like one genre to the deficit of another. I would love to do more straight plays. I don’t frequently get thrown into them. At a certain point, I’m going to have to learn how to dance because right now, a young baritone who can’t really dance very well and that’s kind of keeping me back in the musical world!

SDD: What’s been your favorite production that you’ve worked on?

AM: They’re all so different in retrospect. This play is super good and all the people working on it are amazing. I enjoyed working at Chicago Shakespeare. I did a production of Big River, which is a dream role that I got to do. I played Huck Finn and that was very enjoyable. It’s hard to choose. I don’t have a definite answer.

SDD: Do you have any musical influences?

AM: I’m a big fan of Jeff Buckley. I can’t say that I can sing like him because nobody can sing like him. One of my favorite bands is Muse. They’re sort of over-the-top, dramatic rock. There’s a lot of vibrato and that sort of thing. I listen to a weird range of thing. I like folk music, I like pop music, and I like rock music. It’s hard to pin down.

SDD: Can you describe your involvement in the musical Some Lovers?

AM: That’s a Bacharach show. That was at the Old Globe about two years ago. I think they’re actually going to throw a reading of that show together soon. It’ll be interesting to see what they worked on in it. It was a really, really interesting concept, I thought. It was just four actors playing this couple. There’s a younger version of them and an older version of them. The younger version appears to the older version in The Christmas Carol-esque ghost way. They take them through some events and vignettes from their lives and relationship to reexamine. At the beginning of the play, their relationship was going poorly and by the end of it, hopefully they reconciled everything. That was very cool to work on just because of Bacharach, he was there. He was working on this music with us and it was very Bacharach. The music was great, I thought. It was surreal. That was also me coming straight out of Chicago, working in a lot of non-Equity shows. I was in this beautiful theatre working with Burt Bacharach all of a sudden and it was a dream I didn’t realize that I had. I mean, how many twenty-something actors go around thinking, ‘You know what, I think I should work with Burt Bacharach’? I certainly didn’t go around thinking that at that stage in my career. It was kind of amazing.

SDD: If you could get a drink with anyone on Broadway right now, who would you choose?

AM: Once you started that question, I immediately thought of Jeff Goldblum, because that would be a dream. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s in anything currently on Broadway. Anyone on Broadway right now? I’m going to take a tiny loophole and think slightly ahead and reference Waiting for Godot/No Man’s Land, because I would love to get a drink with Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen. I would not have anything to say to them, but I would like to meet them. That would be awesome.

SDD: If you could trade places with anyone on Broadway, who would you choose?

AM: That’s something I don’t really allow myself to think of. I don’t know. I’d love to do Once for a night.

SDD: That’s been a popular answer!

AM: It’s a fantastic show. I don’t know if my guitar chops are quite up to it, though.

SDD: What is the last great show you saw on stage?

AM: I hate these kinds of questions, because it seems like you’re choosing something to the detriment of something else. I don’t know why this pops into my head, but the first thing that came into my head was a production of Sunday in the Park with George at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. I saw it and it was striking and breathtaking, all of those wonderful things. I thought the second act worked, which sometimes it doesn’t. That’s what came to mind. I’ve seen so many wonderful shows, but that’s what came to mind.

SDD: Can you describe yourself in five words or less?

AM: Nerdy…let’s just go with that. That’s the summation of my personality.

SDD: Do you have any current obsessions?

AM: I love video games and I kind of get obsessed with what I play at the time. I just finished all of the ones that I have, so I’m not currently obsessed with anything.

SDD: Which ones did you just finish?

AM: I was playing Batman: Arkham City, which was a great again. I played it late so I could get the discounts on content. I watch things on Netflix. I like Doctor Who. I just recently got back into Firefly, which is just a great show. I don’t know, I’ve never been too obsessed with anything lately.

SDD: Do you have any secret talents?

AM: No, I have no secret talents because I am a huge blabbermouth and I just go around talking up all of my good points. Secret talents? It’s not really a secret because it’s on my resume, but I can do a labiodental kazoo, which is just making a kazoo sound with your lips and teeth. That will be my secret talent for this interview.

SDD: That is a good one. Have you ever had to use that in any situation?

AM: It comes in great when doing guitar noises or laser sounds or impersonating robots, which I have to do at some frequency sometimes. Sometimes I have to impersonate a robot with a laser playing a guitar. All the time.

SDD: If you weren’t a performer, what would you be and why?

AM: I’ve always wanted to be a video game designer. I don’t necessarily have any of those skills apart from ideas, so I’ve never actually worked toward applying those skills. Part of me still thinks of ideas for that sort of thing, but I don’t think anyone would want to play the games I create. Oh well. Also, I think that market is getting a bit over-saturated.

SDD: Do you have any advice for aspiring performers?

AM: This comes up in talkbacks sometimes and the answer I usually give is remember people’s names and remember people, because when you get anywhere in this industry, everyone knows everyone. You become a better performer by watching people and working with other people and just by knowing the breadth of talent out there. That’s performers, that’s directors and staff and stage managers and lighting and tech members. It’s everybody. It also just makes you a better person in general, not just a performer to have that sort of empathy to be thinking about other people and remembering people. My advice would be to remember everyone you’ve worked with and everyone who’s gotten you to where you are and hope that you can help other people succeed.

SDD: I know you’ve said it was hard to see yourself where you’ll be in the future, but are there any roles you would like to take on?

AM: I’ve actually been fortunate that I’ve gotten to play several roles that I’ve wanted to do. I got to be Jamie Wellerstein in a production of The Last Five Years, but that was a while ago now. It wasn’t anything professional or amazing, but I got to do the show like I’d always wanted to do. I got to Huck Finn in Big River, which was kind of a dream role. I’d love play a villain someday. I tend to get typecast as the gawky, nervous sidekick. That’s me in Peter and the Starcatcher. Something like King Lear. This would be several years down the road, but I’d love to play the Baker in Into the Woods.

SDD: That could be a show for you and your siblings to do together!

AM: Maybe that could be! Abby and Jessie have both done productions of that show. They were each Cinderella. I bet there’s a role in there for almost everyone.

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