Jessie Mueller’s 3 Tips on How to Sing Like Sara Bareilles

Photo Source: Joan Marcus

Jessie Mueller’s vocal prowess was confirmed in 2014 when she wowed audiences (and won a Tony Award) as Carole King in “Beautiful.” But in this season’s four-time Tony-nominated “Waitress,” from composer-lyricist Sara Bareilles and writer Jessie Nelson, the actor takes her voice to dizzying new heights. Particularly in the musical’s denouement, the emotional highs and lows of Mueller’s character, Jenna, are conveyed entirely within her searing vocal performance (check out the video below for a taste).

So how does she keep her instrument healthy? How does she hit those notes eight times a week?

“To me there’s nothing that equates to sleep,” Mueller says. “If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m just toast. There’s nothing I could drink that would repair it.” Without substantial rest, she explains, vocal cords have no chance to relax; continuing to use them can then easily cause damage. “Rest is the best thing to sort of help you bounce back—and a lot of water!”

Water isn’t the only liquid Mueller is swilling before, after, and sometimes during performances of “Waitress.” “Everybody’s voice is different; all kinds of people have different potions they drink at night,” she says. “Sometimes I make teas out of garlic and ginger, because it’s anti-inflammatory. You just boil it in water.” She adds, as an afterthought, “It’s not as gross as it sounds! You just drink it like a tea.”

In fact, Bareilles has a vocal remedy of her own. “Sara was making a concoction the other day when we were recording,” says Mueller, “that was hot water, lemon, raw ginger, cayenne pepper... I think that was it.”

Working with the singer-songwriter on this show, she continues, has been “amazing—hopefully later in my life I’ll have even better hindsight and realize how special this is. Who gets to do that? She’s such a wonderful person and she’s so down to earth that sometimes I forget she’s Sara Bareilles, you know what I mean? But I get reminded. I got to see her perform the other night and I was just like, she’s a force, man. She’s really an exceptional talent.”

Although their similar sensibilities made Mueller a natural choice as the lead in Bareilles’ first musical, the actor notes that their voices differ significantly. “That woman’s range is insane. She has these really low notes, she’s kind of got it all. I’m a big fan of her music and have been for a long time.”

Upon hearing the earliest drafts of songs from “Waitress,” Mueller knew she had to get involved. Since then, it’s been the kind of collaboration most artists only dream of. “She was so great because she was so free and easy about, ‘Let’s try this key,’ ‘maybe let’s try this melody,’ ” she adds. “I’d try to just listen to her, like, Oh! That’s how I should sing it.”

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