Fans of the everything-winning Amazon show Transparent would agree that music is an essential element of the chaotic Pfefferman family. Musical sequences dot the series like vignettes, giving characters a platform to speak freely (not that that’s a problem for any Pfefferman) or realize epiphanies, from Ali and Josh’s bittersweet Jim Croce singalong in the pilot episode, to Maura’s first dance (to Sia’s “Chandelier”) at the drag bar in Season 2, to Shelley’s stupendous one-woman show, “To Shell and Back,” in the Season 3 finale. Could someone write an entire Transparent musical stage production? Definitely. Is Faith Soloway going to do it? Probably.
On Tuesday, Soloway, the Transparent writer and longtime musical-theater innovator, visited the Paste Studio to talk about her years-long vision of adapting the series for the stage, and to perform three songs from what could very well become a Transparent musical. The night before, Soloway had led a one-night-only showcase of the songs, about 10 in all, at Joe’s Pub in New York, with a small crew of actors and a very eager audience all wondering just what might become of this idea. The name of the show: Should Transparent Be a Musical?
“It was beautiful,” Soloway said at the Studio, where she was joined by actor/singers Brandon Cordeiro and Becca Kauffman. “The audience was—it’s like we were all present for a possible beginning of something that everybody felt invested in and excited about, from the audience to the actors.”
One thing she knows for sure is that she wants to do it. She’s always wanted to do it, really.
“I’ve always felt it,” she said. “I think there’s a lot there,” she said. “Television is one medium, it’s one form of expression, and there’s just a different reverberation with music. You can go deeper with these feelings. And they’re fun characters to play with, emotionally. They’re all learning different things at the same time in the same contained family.”
Soloway has captured Hollywood’s attention for her writing since joining her sister, Transparent creator Jill Soloway, on the Amazon series, but she’s a musician first. She spent three years as the musical director for the Second City comedy troupe in her hometown of Chicago, wrote and recorded folk songs in Boston, and created some of the 90s’ finest rock-opera parodies, like The Real Live Brady Bunch and Miss Folk America.
“I’ve been doing this for so long that it does feel like 50-year-old Bar Mitzvah time,” she joked about working on the new Transparent music. Each song is a character sketch of sorts, only built from those characters’ moving-target emotions rather than from storylines. “Nevergenderland,” for one, is sung in the voice of someone who won’t be pushed to define or categorize their identity. It’s a song, Soloway, said, “from the point of view of, potentially, Ali,” referring to the younger Pfefferman sister.
Other songs, like “Crazy People Like You Pick Crazy People Like Me,” predate Transparent. “But all of the songs and the work I’ve been doing, actually, it’s all been fed by the same family, the same instincts, the same thinking about family,” she said. “So when I thought about songs for Transparent, this song that I wrote a while ago just fit in. It would be a potential Josh song.”
Between writing for Transparent — the fourth season of which has wrapped production, she reported — and developing other projects, Soloway has struggled to devote the time she needs to bring a musical to full form. The success of the series “happened so quickly that the musical thing had to take a back seat a good four years.”
But now that she has performed the songs for a live audience, she’s starting to see the finish line more clearly. “I do have to have an incubation period to take it seriously,” she said. “So now I have to figure out how to multitask, because I think now the juice and the energy and the emotion is there.”
“I really do want to do this. This is my heart and soul, is music and writing songs.”