Series stars Judith Light and Alexandra Billings tell EW they're game for a stage show
Should Transparent become a musical? According to series producer and writer Faith Soloway, the answer is yes.
After Faith Soloway & Friends: Should Transparent Become A Musical? at New York City’s Joe’s Pub on Monday, Soloway told EW she is going to pursue the project. “I think people felt it,” shared Soloway, whose sister Jill created the series and serves as showrunner. “So, yeah. I have no choice now. I’ve decided. I feel like I have to go for it.”
Her musical-comedy cabaret previewed what “you’ll hear on the big stage if/when award-winning series Transparent becomes a musical.” Following its debut on Amazon in 2014, the series garnered critical praise for its portrayal of a family whose patriarch, Mort Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor), comes out as transgender and transitions into Maura. Like the series itself, Soloway’s stage production test trial is unconventional. “It’s kind of audacious of a first time out to have a gig where you’re just trying musical numbers out,” she admitted. “Usually, there’s workshops and invited audiences. But that’s the way I like to do it. I like shows. I like relating to an audience.”
Transparent‘s cast is packed with theater vets, like Tambor and Judith Light, so one can’t help but wonder if those actors would reprise their roles in the stage adaptation. “Whoever wants to sing,” said Soloway, leaving the door open to the original cast of the Amazon series. “I would love that.”
Light — who plays helicopter mom Shelly, Maura’s ex-wife — was in the audience and didn’t oppose the idea of reprising her role on stage. “I don’t know whether they would ask me, whether they would want me,” said Light, whose character ended season 3 on a high note with a riveting, emotional performance of “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette. “But as far as I’m concerned, I would follow Faith Soloway and Jill Soloway to the ends of the Earth.”
Alexandra Billings, who portrays Maura’s friend Davina co-hosted the cabaret, said that she is also game. “If Jill or Faith Soloway asked me to jump off a bridge, I would ask them when,” she told EW.
But for Monday’s show, Soloway turned to actors outside the series. Megan Amram channeled Amy Landecker’s portrayal of elder Pfefferman sibling Sarah, addressing her sister Ali’s sexual preferences in “I Was a Lesbian First,” while Amy White Graves took on Shelly, lamenting that her daughter can no longer handle her controlling ways in “Your Boundary Is My Trigger.”
The cabaret took a hilarious turn when Soloway debuted her Joni Mitchell impression. One number finds Maura, played by Seth Bodie, recounting a nightmare in which the singer-songwriter comes to her and warbles, “I suffer, too.”
Watching it all go down were people who could help make the project happen: Broadway producer Jeffrey Seller (Hamilton, Rent) and veteran concert promoter Ron Delsener, who worked with the Soloway sisters on their ’90s comedy musical The Real Live Brady Bunch, both made Soloway “a little nervous,” though that didn’t stop her from calling them out with a spotlight. “It was great to have them there,” she said. “They loved it.”
The idea for a musical came to the Soloways as they brought the TV series to life. They were too preoccupied to make a stage production happen, but the role music has played in the critically-acclaimed series was clear from the get-go: Season 1 features Maura and Davina’s awkward yet liberating duet of Gotye and Kimbra’s smash hit “Somebody That I Used to Know,” complete with matching black and white frocks and wigs; Maura and Shelly’s son Josh (Jay Duplass) is a music producer and entrepreneur; and the theme song was nominated for an Emmy in 2015.
A Transparent musical would be one in a string of many screen-to-stage adaptations in development now, like the Friends musical and Spongebob the Musical. Soloway cringes at the thought that the production is following the adaptation craze. “That’s the thing I’m kind of worrying about,” she said. “I don’t want it to feel like a little trendy thing because everybody does it kind of thing.”
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She has even questioned the title. “The idea that it’s called Transparent the Musical gives me pause,” Soloway explained. “It’s gotta be a musical, but I’m leery of all of that.”
Soloway also questioned whether it should even be a musical while talking to the “ghosts of theater cabarets,” prompting co-host Billings to interrupt. “Yes, Faith, it should,” she said, to which the audience applauded.
Then there’s the matter of getting Amazon’s approval. The evening kicked off with Soloway riffing on the piano to the melody of the theme song about how she would pull off the project. “The rights are owned by Amazon, and that’s another f—ing hell,” she sang, joking.
Taking cues from musicals Next to Normal and Fun Home, Soloway wants a small production size, a small cast, and true to the series, a focus on family. “I saw those shows. I love those shows, but I’m such a comedy person that I really was always yearning for a little bit more release from all the pain,” she explained. “I like the challenge of taking comedy and seriousness together. Between Fun Home and Next to Normal, all of those… Those shows are more in a serious tone, and so I really wanted to challenge myself to have the same tone as [Transparent] does.”
The writer-producer sees the potential project as a return to her wheelhouse: music. “It’s my first love,” said Soloway, who made a name directing rock opera comedies like Jesus Has Two Mommies. “I feel most comfortable in front of the piano.”