This week Playbill checks in with Solea Pfeiffer, currently starring in the new musical Almost Famous, which continues through January 8, 2023, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
Pfeiffer, who is making her Broadway debut, plays the musician's muse Penny Lane in the musical adaptation of Cameron Crowe's 2000 film. Set in 1973, the story follows 15-year-old aspiring music journalist William Miller, who Rolling Stone hires to go on tour with an up-and-coming rock band. William, played by Broadway newcomer Casey Likes, meets and falls for the dazzling Penny, who changes his life in unexpected ways.
It's been a busy season for the multitalented Pfeiffer, who boasts one of the most beautiful and powerful voices in the musical theatre today—a lush, glorious alto that she also recently displayed to thrilling effect in the Entertainment Community Fund's benefit concert of Chess.
Pfeiffer's previous theatrical credits include Signature Theatre's world premiere of Gun & Powder, the title role in City Center's Evita, Lyric Opera of Chicago's The Light in the Piazza (opposite Renée Fleming), the City Center Encores! production of Songs for a New World, Sondheim on Sondheim at the Hollywood Bowl, and the West Coast premiere of Hamilton. The actor's screen credits include A Jazzman's Blues, The Good Fight, and Scandal. She also has a solo show with Audible, titled You Are Here.
What is your typical day like now?
My day always starts with some strong coffee and a good breakfast. When I give myself enough time, I get up and journal and get my thoughts out of my head, followed by a guided meditation (usually one I find on YouTube), and then I’ll do some yoga or Pilates at home to get my body ready for the day. It’s kind of a hard question because every day has been so wildly different from the next lately and always filled with a lot. But having a morning routine definitely allows for more of a feeling of normalcy and consistency.
This time in my life has been filled with a lot of press and a lot of time rehearsing or performing, and very little time alone, so I’ve been learning how best to use my downtime. Some (many) mornings, none of these things happen! I sleep in and scroll on Instagram, and that’s okay, too. We need different things on different days, so I’m learning how to go with the flow and give myself grace.
Tell me a bit about playing Penny Lane in Almost Famous.
Penny Lane, I’ve learned, means a lot to a lot of people. She is a muse, a lover, a free spirit, and the smartest person in the room. She’s someone who has a pure love of music. I relate to her hugely in that I didn’t totally fit in during high school, but I followed my love of music and my art—and through that love found my people and my purpose. I think what she represents to people is the freedom to decide who you are and the courage to walk through the world as that person.
Are there any parts of the role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
Hugely! Most obviously, 1973 (the year our show takes place) was the year Roe v. Wade passed in the Supreme Court, making abortion legal across the country. Opening this show the same year that it was overturned is a major reminder to not take what was fought so hard for, for granted. I’m playing a character that has more rights than half of people in this country who are affected by the control of reproductive rights. But when I see the way the people of my generation rally together, I really am hopeful. Much like in the late '60s and '70s, people are finding other like-minded people by way of loving an artist or an album. And they’re coming together, taking to the streets, and making change. I think this moment in history is equally ripe with challenges as it is with hope, and I feel like we might look back on this time in history with a very similar lens we do with the '70s.
Do you have a favorite theatre experience (as a performer) so far?
One favorite moment is a bit hard to pinpoint. But I have to say, across the board, there’s nothing quite as magical as a sitzprobe. It always feels so magical and intimate, and the pressure of performing the show is off your shoulders for that moment. You just get to connect with the musicians and the score in a whole new way. The sitzprobe for Almost Famous was especially magic, because we knew we were the first people to ever hear these orchestrations, and it really just brought the whole world we created to life.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I would say that it’s one thing to understand and acknowledge that there are problems within our industry and the systems in place, and a whole other thing to actually take that knowledge and do something with it. I think sometimes people get overwhelmed by how much needs to happen in our industry—I know I do. And the reality is, as we’re experiencing, it’s not going to happen overnight.
But I think people underestimate that a lot of this change comes from our personal relationships—allowing your understanding of your privilege to turn into action, and an everyday practice. Ask yourself if you are speaking up for the people who may not have the power to do so. Ask yourself if you have been complacent in those small moments. Who are you bringing to the table, and what are you doing to support them once they're there? I think the main thing I would say is that moments of discomfort are worth it every time when it comes to being an advocate. In fact, it's just a guarantee, but on the other side is something totally worth it.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
I learned that I’d really put myself into a bit of a box when it came to how I thought about myself in my career. If you told me that by 2022, I would have starred in a movie and written my own show, I would not have believed you. Before the pandemic, I had a very clear path I thought I had to follow, and I had total tunnel vision about making my way to Broadway. I’ve realized now that I was waiting for other people to deem me worthy of creating in my own right or making my way to another medium. I think the idea of inherent worth is so powerful! I don’t think of myself as just a performer anymore. And now it feels like there are just infinite possibilities for what could happen next.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
My movie A Jazzman’s Blues is now streaming on Netflix! And, my one-woman show, You Are Here, is now streaming on Audible! I do have some projects of my own that are at the very beginning of their journey, and I can’t wait to share them when it’s time.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Black Women on Broadway and National Network of Abortion Funds.