“In a way, everything that has happened in my life thus far has prepared me for this moment,” says Solea Pfeiffer. It’s the day before she turns 28, and she’s just finished a taping at the “Today” show to promote her first feature film role before she’ll head over to the Theater District to prep for her upcoming Broadway debut.
“That moment has been a little overwhelming,” Pfeiffer adds. “But that’s the New York dream.”
The breakout performer is indeed having a rather pinch-me kind of week. Her first feature film, starring in Tyler Perry’s “A Jazzman’s Blues,” came out Sept. 23 on Netflix after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival. She next will make her Broadway debut as Penny Lane in “Almost Famous,” which opens in previews on Monday. Somewhere in between she’ll hopefully find a birthday cake to blow out the candles on.
“A Jazzman’s Blues” was written and directed by Perry and was the first screenplay he ever wrote, back in 1995. In the meantime he has of course become one of the most famous and successful filmmakers in Hollywood, and the 2022 completion of “Jazzman” shows a much different side of him.
When Pfeiffer got the script, “I just couldn’t put it down,” she says. “It was the perfect role for me. The description was so specific to someone like me in being a mixed raced woman. I think I could count on one hand when it was specifically a half-Black woman.”
Prior to reading the script Pfeiffer had been in the touring cast of “Hamilton,” and one of her friends through the show knew Perry and told the director she was the perfect choice for the film.
“When you meet him, you immediately understand how he has done everything that he’s done,” she says of Perry. “He’s just a grand person. You want to get it right for him. And also just knowing how deeply important this specific script was for him, it was a little bit daunting.”
Until the role in “A Jazzman’s Blues,” Pfeiffer had considered herself primarily a stage performer. Yet during the pandemic, when live performance ceased to exist, she opened up to the idea of film, doing self-tape after self-tape in a friend’s apartment in New York, and the rest is history.
Pfeiffer is the daughter of anthropologists, who took work all over the world and brought their daughter along for the ride. Born in Zimbabwe, she then moved to Los Angeles as her parents finished their Ph.D.’s, then the family moved to Mozambique, Cleveland and Seattle, where she spent her middle school and high school years before leaving to attend the University of Michigan.
She loved singing from an early age and her parents, despite being full-on academics themselves, supported her dream.
“I don’t know whether to attribute that to being an only child, because your parents are just like, ‘You’re the s—t. You can do anything,’” she says. “I think that growing up with that energy I was just like, ‘OK, maybe you’re right. I think I can do it.’”
Soon after wrapping the movie, Pfeiffer was contacted by Audible about writing her own show, which came out this summer and is called “You Are Here.” She’d previously never been interested in creating her own work, yet so much time in lockdown not working got her thinking.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we all changed,” she says. “We all learned so much about ourselves. And I had a lot to say about my experience as a mixed person in America, and realizing that there were a lot of people who didn’t have the vernacular to talk about themselves with their family, whatever. So I was like, ‘I know exactly what I want to write.’”
“You Are Here” talks about her experience as a mixed race person growing up all over the world and not really feeling like she knew how to answer when people asked her where she was from.
“This kind of idea of when your identity isn’t rooted in your race. When your identity isn’t rooted in the place that you’re from — what do you tether yourself to?” Pfeiffer says. “And in June of 2020, when the whole racial reckoning was happening in this country, between my mom and my dad and me, we realized we all had completely different experiences of walking through the world. And that for me, I just knew that so many conversations just haven’t even started. People don’t really know how to talk to mixed people about who they are in general. And so it was a journey of identity, and finding it, and ultimately celebrating it.”
On Monday, Pfeiffer will finally begin previews for her Broadway debut as Penny Lane in “Almost Famous,” a role she landed back in 2018 (the show opens officially on Nov. 3).
She knew the role had to be hers from the moment she read the script and started picturing herself wearing the movie’s iconic coat.
“It’s so many people’s favorite movie,” she says of the 2000 Cameron Crowe movie, which starred Kate Hudson. “And to be a part of this legacy of Penny Lane, to make Penny Lane a woman of color, I think, is really, really f—king cool. I was like, ‘I want to play this role. I want to say those lines. I want to breathe new life into this story that people know and love so well.’ And I was like, ‘I just want to wear that coat.’”
With the show making its much-awaited debut (it earned rave reviews when it showed in San Diego pre-pandemic, earning it a Broadway transfer), Pfeiffer finally feels like New York is going to be home for awhile and has settled into an apartment in Harlem.
“I had this moment the other day when I was like, ‘Oh my God — you have become the woman that your 13-year-old self always hoped you would,’” she says.