Skokie theater director celebrates 'Best Actress' daughter

June 10, 2014 05:55 AM
Jill Shellabarger

The Skokie Park District’s Jill Shellabarger is an accomplished veteran actor in Chicago's thriving theater scene and her voice has been heard in countless radio and television commercials. Her husband, actor Roger Mueller, was cited by the Chicago Tribune as one of Chicago theater’s "unsung heroes." For the past decade, Jill has also made her mark as the director of the park district's award-winning senior theater troupe, Still Acting Up. In addition to a having led a full life in the theater, Jill and Roger’s children, Abby, Matt, Andrew and Jessie, all have gone on to notable acting careers.

Perhaps the pinnacle of this talented family’s tremendous success played out on Sunday at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and on live television, worldwide. Seated in the audience of the 68th Annual Tony Awards, both Jill and Roger waited patiently for Hugh Jackman to announce the winner of the ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ award, their daughter Jessie having been nominated for her lead role in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." (See her acceptance speech here.)

Jill and husband Roger at the Tonys
Jill and husband Roger at the Tonys

When Jackman said "and the Tony award goes to ... Jessie Mueller" their newly-famous daughter dashed to the podium and thanked both of her parents in her emotional acceptance speech. Jessie, 31, cut her musical theater chops in Chicago, before being cast on Broadway. (See and New York Times story here.)

In 2011, theater critic Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune wrote:

"the Broadway production of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," … would see Mueller plucked from relative obscurity … dropped into a major Broadway lead, singing opposite Harry Connick Jr. and suddenly finding herself being photographed by Vanity Fair wearing Oscar de la Renta, and performing on "The View." This was a highly unusual circumstance — few actresses in their 20s with no New York credits make their Broadway debuts in one of the starring roles in a major musical, especially across from a bona fide star. But it was not hard to see why it happened: Mueller's voice is an extraordinary instrument..."

And this in 2009:

"Surely on the cusp of a major career, Jessie is a genuine triple-threat, although most Broadway triple-threats aren't topped off by a voice with this kind of rich beauty."

theater troupe
Still Acting Up theater troupe

After celebrating the amazingly quick turn in her daughter’s career, it’s now back to work for her talented mother, as Shellabarger prepares for the opening of Still Acting Up’s October 2014 performance of "Condo-mania: It Takes a Village". The show is a musical send-up of life in a condominium community, with both the music and the script written by troupe members. The troupe has been around in various forms since 1977, having been taken in by the Skokie Park District in 1998. Shellabarger took the director’s job shortly thereafter and has now been coaching the senior actors for more than a decade. A new Still Acting Up show debuts every October at the park district’s Devonshire Playhouse, with the troupe then taking the show on the road.

For information about the Skokie Parks District’s Still Acting Up senior theater shows, call (847) 674-1500, ext. 2780.

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