The Washington Post

On the road in a musical: The time of her life

Jillian Mueller as Frances "Baby" Houseman and Samuel Pergande (right) as Johnny Castle in a rehearsal of the "Love is Strange" scene in National Theatre's “Dirty Dancing.” (Franz Mahr/Franz Mahr)

Last winter, 20-year-old Jersey girl Jillian Mueller was a bright point of light in “Flashdance,” the national tour that swiveled through the Kennedy Center. Mueller powered through the absurdly demanding 21 / 2-hour stage version of Alex, the Hollywood role played by Jennifer Beals in the 90-minute 1983 film. Through 10 hard months, Mueller never missed a performance.

It’s ’80s déjà vu, with Jennys everywhere: Now Mueller is Baby, the role Jennifer Grey played in “Dirty Dancing.” The theater adaptation of the 1987 movie has been barnstorming around Europe for a decade; the U.S. tour kicks off at the National Theatre Aug. 26.

Mueller on her ’80s movie musical icons:

“They’re both strong, independent females. But Alex is a working girl who had to take care of herself growing up.

“Where Alex is very sure of herself in her body and as a dancer, Baby is young and a daddy’s girl and naïve. She starts out way, way more wholesome.”

Jillian Mueller as Alex Owens in "Flashdance: The Musical." (Jeremy Daniel/Jeremy Daniel)

On being stage-struck at 4, begging her parents to allow her to audition for “real” shows in New York, and making her Broadway debut by seventh grade in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”:

“I always knew 100 percent what I wanted to do. I actually think it was kind of perfect that it happened when I was young, because when you’re a kid, it’s the be-all and end-all.”

On touring in the Green Day musical “American Idiot” at age 17:

“That’s an intense show for a 30-year-old! The second-youngest person in the cast to me was, like, 23.”

On touring yet again (she also was with “Memphis” for two months):

“I was trying to see what could happen here [in Manhattan] as opposed to on the road.

“This wasn’t part of the plan, but what [am I] going to do — say no to this cool, iconic thing and stay on my butt in New York? I’m young, so there’s no reason for me not to enjoy this time on the road.”

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" came out in 2014.
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