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The Story Behind the 'Transparent' Musical Episode
September 27, 2019  | By Mike Hughes
 

What can a TV show do when it suddenly loses its star?

Most quit, a few push on, and one created a musical.

It didn't happen quickly. Transparent debuts its "Musicale Finale" episode on Amazon Friday, almost two years after the previous episode. And Jill and Faith Soloway had a head start.

"Faith has been writing these songs that come from the heart of the Soloway family saga," Jill told the Television Critics Association in July. "We had been dreaming of a Broadway musical one day."

That still might happen, Faith said. First was this crisis: After investigating charges of sexual and verbal abuse, Amazon decided not to renew Jeffrey Tambor's option – he was fired in early 2018; it was a sudden setback for a Soloway triumph.

Faith and Jill grew up comfortably in Chicago, where their father was a psychiatrist, and their mother was the communications director for a mayor and a school superintendent. "Since we were 2 or 3," Jill said, "we've been sitting around, hatching plays together and musicals." Much has happened since then. "I wasn't even queer until I was in my late-40s," said Jill, 53.

One significant change came in 2011 when their father came out as transitioning to female. Three years later, Transparent debuted with Tambor as Maura, the transitioning dad.

The show has been about many other things, Jill said. "It's kind of a thrill ride for neurotic people. You just get thrown around, shaking the anxiety out of you."

Viewers liked the ride. In a three-year stretch, Transparent got 28 Emmy nominations and eight wins, two for Tambor. Then he left, and the idea of a musical emerged.

"The antenna was up," Faith Soloway said, "and I got to dream… I've been writing songs about…gender and about Jewishness and about family all my life."

In June of 2018, cast members started workshopping some songs, joined by Shakina Nayfack (who already had a company doing original musicals) and others.

Some actors stepped into this hesitantly. As Amy Landecker recalls: "Looking at the script (I'm thinking), 'I'm not going to have any sex scenes; this is going to be easy.' And then it was like, 'Oh no, now I'm singing, which is way scarier and more vulnerable.'"

Others boomed ahead. "When did Judith Light (top) turn into Chita Rivera?" Alexandra Billings asked.

Light, who hadn't done a musical in decades, found her inner diva. Transparent was going to go out in a high-volume, high-octane, high-emotion way.

 
 
 
 
 
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