Solea Pfeiffer Is the Name to Know This Fall


"It’s feeling a little witchy the way things are going,” Solea Pfeiffer muses from a corner of her dressing room. The actress is deep in rehearsals for the Broadway production of Almost Famous The Musical, which officially opens its doors on November 3, and she’s simultaneously promoting her new Netflix film, A Jazzman’s Blues, and her Audible Original one-woman show, You Are Here: An Evening With Solea Pfeiffer. The many pinch-me career moments have all fallen beautifully into place, one leading seamlessly into the next over the course of a year. As she’s already being labeled as Hollywood’s next big thing, it’s clear Pfeiffer is on the cusp of a major breakout moment. 

So how did Pfeiffer get here? You have to go back to 2021, the year that cracked everything wide open for the Zimbabwe-born performer. She was living off the end of her savings, couch surfing between friends’ apartments in New York City, and sending in self-tape after self-tape when a life-changing film opportunity fell into her lap—a Tyler Perry project 27 years in the making. A far cry from Perry’s usual slapstick fare, A Jazzman’s Blues is a tale of forbidden love between teens Bayou and Leanne set in 1940s rural Georgia. Just as quickly as the young couple’s bond forms, the pair are ripped apart by Leanne’s mother, who forcefully relocates her to Boston. It is there that Leanne passes as a Caucasian woman and marries into a wealthy white family while Bayou pursues a music career in Chicago. But when Leanne’s and Bayou’s paths cross again, both of their lives are put at risk. It’s a heart-wrenching story of star-crossed love, family drama, and racism in America that is already gaining some award-season buzz.


(Image credit: Stephanie Diani; Styling: Xuly.Bët outfit; Vince Camuto shoes)

For his leading couple, Perry notably took a chance and put his trust in a pair of newcomers from the theater world. Joshua Boone is excellent as Bayou, while Pfieffer shines as Leanne in her feature-film debut. You always remember your first, but the impact A Jazzman’s Blues would have on the 28-year-old was far greater than she ever imagined. "There’s no paycheck, no visibility, no career thing that can really amount to what this opportunity gave me,” she says over Zoom. "It gave me permission to take ownership of my identity.” Playing Leanne, a biracial young woman, hit home for the actress. Pfeiffer grew up the only mixed person in her family and spent most of her young-adult life trying to figure out where she belonged. She never felt empowered to claim her Black identity because her mother was adopted and had no connection to her family up until a few years ago. She was alone in her experiences until Perry’s film opened her up to a whole new sense of self.

"To be specifically half Black, half white in America is a polarizing and confusing experience,” Pfieffer says. "I found that we really don’t get a history of mixed people in America. The concept of passing isn’t something that a lot of people have thought about. And that’s what I love about this movie. It sheds light on an entire clandestine of American history. They had to keep [their race] to themselves and keep it a secret because their lives are on the line. I had always thought of myself as this modern person dealing with modern feelings and emotions when, in reality, people like me have existed all the time. They’ve just had to assimilate into one side or the other when it came to their identity. So I got to learn a history of myself and people like me.”

The gift of self-discovery that A Jazzman’s Blues offered Pfeiffer would ultimately open up another door—and career milestone—for the actress. After she wrapped filming in the summer of 2021, Audible came to her with the opportunity to produce her own show. It just so happened Pfeiffer had spent most of the pandemic searching for artistic autonomy and finding her voice as a writer. Coming off Perry’s film, she knew just the topic to explore: what it means to be a mixed-race person in America today. "As a kid, I didn’t have the vernacular,” she tells me. "The conversation just wasn’t started about how to figure out who the hell you are when you are a mixed person and no one in your family has the same experience. … The movie was this big puzzle piece to all this and helped me find my way to this story. Because the whole story is about identity and being lost in your identity and ultimately finding it and celebrating and taking ownership of that, it all tied together in this beautiful way, and both of the experiences gave me so much confidence.” Featuring Pfeiffer’s powerhouse vocals, the one-woman production is now streaming on Audible Original and is a captivating musical experience that is not to be missed. 


(Image credit: Jace Downs/Netflix)

Performing live is Pfeiffer’s first and true love, which brings us back to the present day—the actress sitting in her dressing room at the esteemed Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. At the time of our interview, she is just a few days away from previews of Almost Famous The Musical, where she will make her Broadway debut as the iconic Penny Lane. Pfeiffer was 1 year old when the original film hit theaters and didn’t actually watch it until 2018 when she was first attached to the project. "I remember I was home in Seattle and had just gotten my wisdom teeth out and was looking crazy. I watched it, and I was like, ‘Okay, I have to do this. This has to be me,’” she says. Like so many of us, she instantly fell in love with the character. "I relate so hard to the idea of leaving high school behind and finding your people through your music and your art. And this show has brought all of these amazing people into my life,” she adds.

The show’s journey to Broadway has been a long one following various COVID and production delays. It’s been a part of Pfeiffer’s life since she was 24, and she feels like a different person each year she comes back to it. But when the musical does finally open its doors this November, audiences will be treated to a thrilling take on Cameron Crowe’s hit 2000 film that promises to dive deeper into each of its characters. 

"One thing I’ve been exploring as we get closer and closer is why this character has permeated the culture so firmly,” she says of portraying Penny. "There is just something about this character that people love and hold on to, and I’ve met so many girls who have internalized this character and feel they are her to some degree. With this iteration—and what I love about musical theater—is we can take one moment and expand on it. We don’t just know her in relationship to William or relationship to Russell. We know her in relationship to herself and her backstory and why at the end of this it’s not just a breakup that leads to an overdose. We get to see her even more as a real girl and not just this magical entity who makes people’s lives more exciting. And that’s what’s cool about this. It’s this iconic character that now we get to tell the world more about. There are so many people who love this character, so I’m excited for people to get to know her better.” 


(Image credit: Neal Preston)

Pfeiffer adds that the show is more like another telling of Crowe’s story vs. an adaptation, but rest assured Penny Lane’s signature shag coat and blonde curls are still very much present. "It’s not lost on me I have some iconic imagery to put on every night in this show,” she says with a big smile. "I feel so lucky.” 

Pfeiffer is happy to say she’s finally in the good graces of the costume gods (it’s worth noting she has some especially stunning looks in A Jazzman’s Blues) following a particularly sad period in high school when she was often stuck with the worst wig or a repurposed look. "I paid my dues in costumes that were a bummer,” she laughs.


(Image credit: Jace Downs/Netflix)

Pfeiffer has paid her dues career-wise too. A series of noteworthy theater performances, including Eliza Hamilton during the national tour of Hamilton and Maria in the Hollywood Bowl production of West Side Story, and recurring TV roles (The Good Fight and Scandal) have led to this moment. She’s in her leading-lady era, and boy are we here for it. The serendipitous nature of the last year could suggest something supernatural was at play, as Pfieffer might infer, but I’d argue it’s her raw talent hitting at just the right time.

A Jazzman’s Blues is now streaming on Netflix. 

Photographer: Stephanie Diani

Stylist: Sarah Slutsky

Hairstylist: Karla Serrano

Makeup Artist: Camille Thompson

Executive Director, Entertainment

Jessica Baker is Who What Wear’s Executive Director, Entertainment, where she ideates, books, writes, and edits celebrity and entertainment features.