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‘Girls5Eva’ Star Renée Elise Goldsberry Knows Something About Dreaming Big

As the hit show returns for its second season, the actor-singer-songwriter talks to AARP about never settling

Renée Elise Goldsberry attends the NBCU FYC House "Girls5Eva" carpet at NBCU FYC House on May 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
David Livingston/Getty Images

Tony Award-winning actress Renée Elise Goldsberry can’t help but be inspired by her Girls5Eva songstress, Wickie. “It is the message that I want to sing out the loudest in our show,” the 51-year-old says. “However crazy it might seem, you should still be able to ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do when I grow up?’ and not put any limitations on the answer,” she says. “That’s why we’re cheering for these women — because they are still dreaming.”

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On the Peacock hit, whose second season just began streaming, Wickie reunites with her one-hit-wonder girl group from the ’90s — played by talented singers Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps and Paula Pell — after a Girls5Eva pop hit gets sampled by a young rapper. Goldsberry’s Wickie, whose solo career has reached new lows, is nostalgic for the days when she was the glamorous, fierce diva of the group. 

In reality, Goldsberry’s star couldn’t be brighter after a string of Broadway hits, including her Tony Award-winning role of Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway musical Hamilton, a turn as Nettie Harris in The Color Purple and as the final actress to play Mimi Márquez in Rent.

A nostalgic look back at the 1990s

As for the ’90s, Goldsberry looks back on the decade — even the fanny packs and scrunchies — with fondness. “I had a great time in the ’90s,” she says. “Ironically, I was not as successful as Girls5Eva, so I guess the advantage of that is there was nowhere to go but up for me.” Goldsberry marked the decade as a 20-something playing “Backup Singer No. 1” to Vonda Shepard on Ally McBeal

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“Maybe it would have been better to have a bigger part,” she says, “but what I got to do was learn, to be there without the same kind of pressure. I just experienced the joy of being part of Ally McBeal, the phenomenon.”

Dreaming big in the 2020s

For Goldsberry, the comeback dream of Wickie and Girls5Eva has prompted her to circle back to her own roots in music and dig into working on her own solo album. “Sometimes life imitates art in a way that cannot be coincidence,” she says. “I did not time it this way but I, as Renée Elise Goldsberry, am in album mode.”

Goldsberry, who has a master of music degree in jazz studies from the University of Southern California and a theater degree from Carnegie Mellon, hopes the album filled with “soulful mature pop” music will cap a rich career that also includes being a concert headliner. “I get to travel around the country and do my show in concert halls all over,” she says. “It’s been a tremendously triumphant tour. I could just leave it at that. So why ask for more? It’s because I’m also a songwriter and a singer, and I have some other things to say.” And, Goldsberry adds, Wickie may just have been whispering in her ear. “If some of my character in Girls5Eva hasn’t rubbed off on me, then what is the point?” 

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A different kind of midlife crisis

Credit some Wickie-whispering, but also credit the existential reboot of the pandemic that had the star rethinking her goals. “There’s no shortage of people doing that after 2020,” she says. “We had a lot of time at home to rethink our lives. We went through a collective midlife crisis.” And even amid this decade’s monumental challenges, Goldsberry says she wouldn’t trade it for any other — not even the 1990s. 

“Along the journey you gain so much,” she says. “For me, I gained a husband. I gained these two children. I get to spend this decade with them, which right now is something I wouldn’t trade for any other.” And there’s more to look forward to in the 2020s for Goldsberry: Later this summer, she’ll continue to surprise with a role on the Disney+ streaming series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Further down the road, she has her eyes on telling the story of jazz giant Sarah Vaughan. “I’m a huge fan of hers,” Goldsberry says. “She was so successful at keeping the public out of her personal life that sometimes I worry she’s disappearing a little bit. I would like to be a part of the telling of the stories of our women heroes.”

Now that’s a hit idea.

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