Old Globe’s leading ladies return for outdoor cabaret series

The Old Globe's first live stage performances this summer will be a series of outdoor cabaret shows
The Old Globe’s first live stage performances this summer will be a series of outdoor cabaret shows by past leading ladies Solea Pfeiffer, left, Carmen Cusack and Eden Espinosa.
(Courtesy of The Old Globe)

Solea Pfeiffer, Carmen Cusack and Eden Espinosa all starred in musical world premieres at the Globe


This weekend, the Old Globe returns to performances before a live audience for the first time since March 2020.

No doubt, audience members are eager to file into their seats for these first outdoor shows, a trio of solo cabaret concerts by past leading ladies from three of the Globe’s recent world premiere musicals. But ticket-buyers’ enthusiasm pales compared to that of the performers, “Almost Famous” star Solea Pfeiffer, “Bright Star” Tony nominee Carmen Cusack and “Rain” star Eden Espinosa.

This week we spoke via email with Pfeiffer, the 26-year-old Zimbabwe-born American actress who performs June 19 and 20; Cusack is an international theater veteran based in Los Angeles, who performs June 25-27; and Espinosa, the Broadway veteran of “Wicked,” “Rent” and “Brooklyn,” performs July 9-11. Here are their thoughts on the past 16 months, their returns to the stage and their concert programs.

Solea Pfeiffer will perform cabaret shows June 19-20 at The Old Globe
Solea Pfeiffer, who starred in the Old Globe’s 2019 musical “Almost Famous,” returns to open the theater’s 2021-2022 season with cabaret shows on June 19-20.
(Courtesy of The Old Globe)

Solea Pfeiffer

Q: Solea, you made a huge splash at The Old Globe in 2019 as Penny Lane in the musical “Almost Famous.” What are your favorite memories from working at the Globe?

A: If getting to work within the glorious Balboa Park every day isn’t enough of a reason to say I’m in love with the Globe, then I would have to say the community. All the people behind the scenes — our whole crew, the local musicians, those working front of house — were just as passionate about our show as we were! That is a gift, and is downright rare. It made coming to work in this beautiful oasis feel that much better every day. We really got to know each other and always looked forward to finishing the week together at Nunu’s for heavy pours and a ton of laughter.

Q: When will the long-delayed Broadway production of “Almost Famous” begin rehearsals?

A: While I can’t share any specifics right now, I have high hopes that pretty soon our beloved “Almost Famous” fans and Band-Aids will have some pretty exciting news.

Q: I saw you were cast to appear in the Netflix film Tyler Perry’s“A Jazzman’s Blues.” Tell me about it?

A: I just wrapped shooting this beautiful film right at the end of May. I can’t even express my gratitude to Tyler Perry and Netflix for the opportunity to create after a year of such deep uncertainty. I had the time of my life, and next year I think America is going to fall in love with the world and the characters we worked so hard to bring to life.

Q: You’re active on Twitter following the changes the nation is undergoing as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and We See You White American Theatre. Do you think these efforts will lead to lasting opportunities in the arts for artists of color, or is there still a long way to go?

A: I think when it comes to social media, we’ve all recognized its power to get people mobilized and educated. … And I am in awe of my peers who have really taken the reins to speak out publicly and really hold this industry accountable. I think in every way their efforts will have a ripple effect that will help to uplift marginalized people in every corner of the industry. That said, it really feels like the conversation is just beginning. Like those in power, those who really need to be reached in order to make systemic change are merely acclimated now to the idea of even having the conversation. So it’s a start! And I am incredibly hopeful. But for any change that has happened thus far all the credit has to go to the boots-on-the-ground activists who have put their careers and livelihoods on the line. Their work went far and beyond any one Tweet or Instagram post.

Q: Can you give a few hints about what audiences will hear at your concerts?

A: I think they’ll be happy to hear tunes they love from showbiz as well as some pop songs I couldn’t get enough of this past year ... and I’ve got the genius, bad-ass multi-hyphenate Macy Schmidt doing my arrangements. I think people will be excited to hear some twists on classics they know and love.

Q: Will these concerts be your first live performances in front of an audience since March 2020? If so, what are your emotions of getting back onstage again?

A: This will be my first real return to the stage … and I anticipate tears. Lots of tears. The happiest of tears. I’m finally coming home.

Tony nominee Carmen Cusack will perform cabaret shows at The Old Globe June 25 through 27.
(Sophia Tatum)

Carmen Cusack

Q: Carmen, this will be your first time back at the Old Globe since 2014’s “Bright Star,” which earned you a Tony nomination in your Broadway debut. What are your favorite memories from working at the Globe?

A: It feels so good to be going back to the Old Globe! Especially now after the year we’ve had. I half expected to be experiencing a bit of trepidation upon returning to the spotlight after being cooped up for so long, but the Old Globe feels like home. It’s such a warm and inviting place to be. We had a blast there during our “Bright Star” run. The people are chill and welcoming. The weather is pretty much always glorious, and I live in Los Angeles, so not too far from home. It feels like the perfect soft opening to entering the world again. Going live with a real audience! I’m beyond excited! I’m chomping at the bit! My fondest memories at the Globe, besides getting up to work with (“Bright Star” co-writers) Steve Martin and Edie Brickell every morning, were the bike rides, the weather, the food and, of course, the beaches! I’m pretty sure my husband (Scottish actor Paul Telfer) and I will move there eventually. San Diego is the bomb!

Q: How did you spend the pandemic?

A: When the pandemic hit, I was about to open a show on Broadway at the Lincoln Center Theater (James Lapine’s “Flying Over Sunset”). It was on the actual day (March 12th) that Broadway closed we were to have our first preview. Uh yeah, timing!? So, the ramping up to open a show for it to be essentially taken away was quite the blow. One minute I’m about to open a show in NYC and then the next day I’m on a plane back to L.A. It was beyond bizarre to say the least. I had all this pent-up energy ready to blast off but then: “No! Everyone go home! Lock the doors!” It was maddening! I got my sewing machine out and started making masks and donating them to hospitals, friends, family and basically anyone who would have one. It was so upsetting to know that medical workers who were trying to save lives were endangering themselves everyday because they didn’t have enough protective gear. That kept me busy for the first couple months, Then I got on the sourdough baking trend and can make a pretty perfect loaf. Then got on the tie-dye scene and made far too many pillow cases. Then I decided I needed to make a slipcover for our L-shaped sectional couch, which was no joke! Safe to say I went a bit nuts, but luckily I had enough hobbies to keep me out of trouble for the most part. That and a very caring, patient husband. We also found that the occasional fight was quite cathartic. To make matters more exciting, we bought a house during the most uncertain of times. The one thing I could not do was sing. I didn’t want to. Didn’t feel like it. It was time to be quiet and listen. It was time to be contemplative. Time to reset. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have come out of this terribly trying year unscathed. Many did not and my heart goes out to all who lost loved ones this year.

Q: Will these concerts be your first live performances in front of an audience since March 2020?

A: This will be my first full concert with a band and a live audience. I’m really hoping the audience will have an immersive experience. I have so missed that live buzz in the air when you plug in and feel the energy from all corners of a space. I’ll be singing some old faves from “Bright Star,” of course, speckled with a couple of my originals. I’ll be bringing some “theater” back into the theater with a couple of my beloved roles, “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Ragtime.” I will also be debuting a new song from Edie Brickell’s new musical “38 Minutes,” coming soon to a theater near you and a song from “Flying Over Sunset.” Before it is played to Broadway audiences, San Diego will hear it first! I’m also going to celebrate a few other artists that have kept me afloat this year. We are going live ... at long last!

Q: What’s next on the horizon?

A: I’m happy to say “Flying Over Sunset” will be opening at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center in early December of this year.

Eden Espinosa will perform cabaret shows at The Old Globe July 9-11.
(Courtesy of Anthony Matula )

Eden Espinosa

Q: Eden, this will be your first time back at the Old Globe since “Rain” in 2016. What are your favorite memories from working at the Globe?

A: I am so beyond thrilled to be returning to the Globe with these concerts. My fave memories from working at the Globe, is simply just that. Working there. The environment. The staff. San Diego. The weather. It’s a perfect combination for creation and creativity!

Q: In 2019, you released “Revelation,” an album of original songs that you co-wrote. Will some of these songs be on the concert bill at the Globe?

A: It’s such a strange thing to write material based on a certain time in your life and have it archived forever. I’m so proud of “Revelation” and happy people have responded to it in the way they have. There will definitely be some songs from the album performed in my shows.

Q: What other songs will be featured in your concerts July 9-11?

A: Before the pandemic, I was doing a residency in New York in which I created a new set list every week. I really wanted to curate a special experience for the people that were there. Now for these engagements I won’t be able to do that, but I am being very selective in the material I choose. These shows will have selections from both of my albums. Some musical theater favorites that I’m known for, and also songs that were a part of my life growing up in Southern California.

Q: What was your pandemic experience like for you as an artist over the past 16 months?

A: The pandemic was life-changing for me. A lot of healing. A lot of lessons. A lot of soul searching. A lot of grieving. But I came out the other side a better person. It was hard not being able to do what I have always done. But it forced me to look at myself and ask “What else is there?” I have a tattoo on my arm of a saying that translates to “THERE IS MORE IN YOU.” There is more in all of us than what we do. I found those things, while I was still able to teach and continue doing voice-over work. What I’m most proud of is the nonprofit organization I co-founded with (actor) Karen Olivo, Artists for Economic Transparency (AFECT).

Q: Will these concerts be your first live performances in front of an audience since March 2020?

A: These shows at the Globe will be the biggest since the pandemic. I finished out my residency in N.Y. and that is just me and a guitar in a very intimate space. So I have a lot of feelings wrapped up in these concerts. It’s close to my hometown. It’s a full band. It’s the Globe. I’m just feeling grateful. I have thrived in new ways without performing for over a year, so my outlook is different. It’s about what I can give, instead of the validation I could get. So I’m very excited to be able to bring my gifts to San Diego.

Leading Ladies Cabaret Series

Solea Pfeiffer (“Almost Famous”): 8 p.m. June 19-20

Carmen Cusack (“Bright Star”): 8 p.m. June 25-27

Eden Espinosa (“Rain”): 8 p.m. July 9-11

Where: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, the Old Globe, Balboa Park, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego

Tickets: $29 and up

Phone: (619) 234-562

Online: theoldglobe.org
—Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune