Tyler Perry’s epic romantic drama comes at right time for Zimbabwe-born star

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I Special to The Seattle Times

“A Jazzman’s Blues” came at just the right time for Solea Pfeiffer.

The 28-year-old, Zimbabwe-born, Seattle-raised actress was initially approached about Tyler Perry’s epic romantic drama in March 2021. After a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with Broadway still closed, the “Hamilton,” “West Side Story,” “Evita” and “Sondheim On Sondheim” performer was living in her friend’s apartment in New York, doing auditions over Zoom, and mostly making money from singing and acting teaching online.

“I was doing the work-from-home and performer hustle. I’d sing ‘Hamilton’ for groups of people across the world. It was a point where I was just hoping that something would work out,” Pfeiffer said in an interview with The Seattle Times. “Then this beautiful script came my way.”

Spanning more than 40 years, “A Jazzman’s Blues” tells the story of Leanne (Pfeiffer) and Bayou (Joshua Boone) falling in love in 1947 Georgia. However, after Leanne’s family forbids their relationship, the couple split. When they cross paths again several years later, Bayou is a singing and dancing sensation, while Leanne is married to another man. Their passion for each other still runs deep, though, and they soon decide to rekindle their romance and run away together.

When she first read Perry’s script for “A Jazzman’s Blues,” Pfeiffer says the description of Leanne felt as if it could “easily be me.” Perry clearly felt the same way: Just a few days after watching Pfeiffer’s audition, he offered her the role.

One of the first scripts he ever wrote, “A Jazzman’s Blues” is very much a departure for Perry.

“Tyler has waited a very long time to make this script. He’s had these characters in his head for 27 years,” Pfeiffer said. “Even when I was reading the script, I knew that it wasn’t what anyone was expecting from him.”

Primarily known as the creator and performer of the Madea character, Perry has written and/or directed 24 films since 2005’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” The 12 Madea comedies alone have grossed just less than $750 million at the box office.

“He’s obviously very prolific,” Pfeiffer said. “It just feels very exciting to be a part of his next chapter, especially because of his stature and what he’s done already in his life.”

Pfeiffer has been prolific herself from a very young age. She started to play the violin when she was 4, having been inspired to do so by the 1998 drama “The Red Violin.” She then quickly developed a love for singing, and before long she’d also become obsessed with performing.

“When I was about 7 or 8, I went to a summer camp for drama. I loved it. I got to sing. I got to be in this theatrical space. I felt as though I had found my people.”

Soon after, though, Pfeiffer’s parents got jobs as anthropologists at the University of Washington. Moving to Seattle only aided her acting ambitions.

“I went to Roosevelt High School, which is where I really started to get serious about theater,” she said. “They had the most unbelievable drama program. I got to take drama classes all the way through high school. It just really set me on my path.”

Pfeiffer even got her first professional acting job at Seattle’s now-closed Balagan Theater, where she performed in the rock musical “Spring Awakening.” All these years later, Pfeiffer is still well aware of the impact Seattle had on her creatively.

“I grew up surrounded by art, local art, and a lot of people doing it for the sake of it. That spirit has definitely stayed with me. Seattle is just such a beautifully artistic place.”

Pfeiffer’s ambition to become a theater actress meant that, when it came time to stand in front of a camera and shoot “A Jazzman’s Blues,” Pfeiffer was understandably “very nervous.”

“Before this, I had probably been on set for a total of eight days. Film and TV just weren’t the medium that I was most comfortable with,” she said.

Pfeiffer wasn’t alone with this feeling, though. Filling “A Jazzman’s Blues” with actors from the world of theater was a conscious choice by Perry. Like Pfeiffer, Boone and Austin Scott are also “children of the stage and Broadway kids.”

“He just really trusted what we brought to the film,” Pfeiffer said. “Every character in this movie has their own private battles. It’s a movie about compassion. I hope people walk away from it with a deeper understanding of themselves and of the Black experience in America. I hope people just see it. I hope they love it. And I hope they carry it with them.”