Image from 'A Transparent Musical' at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. The Pfefferman family stand in a row, all of them white and Jewish. Shelley (short with white hair and wearing all black), Josh, (dark hair and beard wearing a patterned buttondown and jeans), Maura (long white hair and wearing a green dress with leaf patterns), Ari (short, curly dark hair wearing a patterned blazer, a dark vest over a light buttondown, and dark pants with a criss-cross pattern), and Sarah (long curly brown hair and wearing a plant print buttondown and patterned flowy pants).

Joey Soloway on Examining a Flawed Family (and a Flawed Series) with ‘A Transparent Musical’

As a queer, Jewish, cis woman married to a trans woman, the original Amazon series, Transparent, always held a special place in my heart. Flawed though it was (especially in hindsight), it was also the first of its kind. A mainstream show that examined gender and sexuality through lenses that hadn’t been looked through on television before. A trans lens. A queer lens. And an unapologetically Jewish lens.

Recommended Videos

Recently, I had the pleasure of looking in on the Pfefferman family when I attended a performance of A Transparent Musical at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. I was so grateful for the experience.

I went in anticipating the kind of reaction I’d have, but I began having strong, emotional responses to completely unexpected things. Like, I cried during a song about being someone’s emergency contact, for crying out loud.

Co-writers Joey Soloway (who created the TV show based on their own family) and playwright MJ Kaufman adapted five seasons of the series into a book that improves on the original in many ways. Meanwhile, Soloway’s sibling, Faith Soloway, was responsible for the music, lyrics, and vocal arrangements. Their joyful, insightful songs are a big reason why A Transparent Musical is such a satisfying experience.

A Transparent Musical does what the original series did well—centering points of view that don’t normally get centered (trans people, queer people, older married and divorced people)—while adding to those efforts.

Image of Peppermint as Davina in 'A Transparent Musical' at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. She is a tall Black woman with long braids standing with her hands on her hips and smiling, wearing a brown and white leaf-patterned dress)
Peppermint as Davina (Craig Schwartz Photography)

For example, a central relationship is that between Davina, a Black, Jewish trans woman who works at the Jewish Community Center, and Ezra, a Black trans man who’s come looking for her believing they have someone in common.

In another intriguing change, the characters of Raquel (the cis woman rabbi played by Kathryn Hahn in the original series) and Shea (the trans woman sex worker played by Trace Lysette) from the original series have been combined to create a trans woman rabbi love interest for Josh.

Rather than pitting a cis and trans woman against each other as Josh’s OTP, this change allows Josh to have feelings for a trans woman without competition from unresolved feelings for a former cis partner. If anything, competition comes from Raquel’s dedication to Judaism, as well as Josh’s difficulty with love in general.

That’s what the show is about for all the characters: love. How hard it is to love others when you’re incapable of loving yourself, and how healing epigenetic trauma can allow us to grow in love.

Despite having a trans woman at its center, the story of Transparent was never only about Maura. It was about her relationship with her family, all of whom were self-absorbed, in their own ways and to varying degrees. All of whom—Maura included—were never taught to fully love themselves, so they were horrible at loving each other.

Image from 'A Transparent Musical' at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. The Pfefferman siblings sit on a couch around a short table in a bar, all of them white and Jewish. Sarah (long curly brown hair pulled up on top of her head and wearing a white jumpsuit as she holds her drink glass out in the middle of a song), Ali (dark short curly hair and wearing a brown suit with a white button down as they hold up a glass), and Josh (short dark hair and beard wearing a white button down with plants on it and jeans as he holds out a glass). There are bar patrons at the bar behind them.
The Pfefferman siblings (l-r): Sarah (Sarah Stiles), Ali (Adina Verson), and Josh (Zachary Prince). (Craig Schwartz Photography)

I got to chat with Joey Soloway via email about the evolution of the Pfeffermans’ story from TV series (with its musical finale) to staged musical, and what it was like to re-excavate their family history in a new medium.

“As we moved into the final seasons of the show, Faith and I were both going on our own nonbinary journeys and coming out as trans,” Soloway explained. “We thought that for this next iteration it might be a strong new direction to take the cues from that journey. Faith and I have begun to wonder, who would we have been if we knew we had this family legacy? That became what we wanted to focus on.”

The epigenetic trauma in Ali’s backstory, stemming from a Pfefferman family connection to Marcus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, Germany in 1933, was explored in the series. Since A Transparent Musical was meant to focus on Ali’s journey toward a nonbinary identity (and a new name, Ari), Soloway thought that “going to Weimar felt so right and so theatrical.”

Indeed, the second act of the musical finds Ali/Ari being transported to the Institute, finding joy in how liberated queer and trans folks got to be in Germany in 1933 only to find sorrow in how the Nazis destroyed all of the amassed knowledge on transness and sexuality that was collected there.

Freedom and fascism don’t mix.

I asked Soloway what they hope audiences take away from this experience in light of the disturbing resonance between what happened in 1933 and what’s happening to trans people and queer people globally in 2023. They said:

“We hope the songs stay in your head and wake you up in the middle of the night. That the lyrics take on new meanings—and the awareness that transformations can happen only through art in certain ways. The musical is a trojan horse of joy and delight and the opportunity to be immersed in a trans space. The trans prism as the lens. We love that people may leave feeling discombobulated but opened up. And maybe some people will feel differently about trans rights as human rights.”

Image from 'A Transparent Musical' at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. Maura and Ari stand in the middle of the stage looking up dazzled by falling confetti and twinkling lights. Both are white and Jewish. Maura has long white hair and is wearing a green dress with a leaf pattern. Ari has short curly dark hair and is wearing a patterned blazer, a dark vest over a light buttondown, and dark pants with a criss-cross pattern.
Maura (Daya Curley) and Ari (Adina Verson). (image: Craig Schwartz Photography)

I wondered if there was anything difficult not only about reopening the family history, but working with family to create it, but Soloway found that to be the easiest part.

“Working with Faith makes everything easier,” they said. “We have a way of unspoken partnership that we have learned over our entire lifetimes, so having a sibling right across the table or across the room is like having your own artistic vision squared. We know how to toss the ball back and forth gently until we get to an answer.”

Of course, any time one creates art there’s the part that’s beyond the artist’s self-expression, where the work impacts others. I asked Soloway if how they approached their family story in A Transparent Musical would be how they’d approach the TV series if they had it all to do over again.

“I kind of avoid these “do over” questions because life doesn’t work that way,” they said. “It was so long ago in many ways—made in a time where I thought I was cis.” Soloway continued:

“The spark of the idea was only available from the context of our whole family sort of instantly working out what transness even was. Of course no one, including us, would ever cast a cis person as a trans person again, but that’s because of the culture shift. The show changed the culture so quickly that it ended up making the world a place where the show wouldn’t exist as conceived. Which in and of itself is such a puzzle that it’s hard to answer the ‘what ifs’ logically. I feel a lot of remorse and apology for the ways in which casting a cis man did harm, and continue to attempt to repair whenever possible. And as a general rule, in anything and everything, I am always pushing the marginalized to the center, trying to take up queer and trans space, centering BIPOC folx and questioning how white supremacy and patriarchy have colonized even the basics of story structure and what a hero is.”

With A Transparent Musical closing on Sunday, I asked Soloway what was next. Personally, I hope they release an original cast recording because these songs (and their interpretation by a brilliant cast) are really killer.

Apparently, Soloway hopes so, too! They have “[b]ig dreams, including more productions and even a cast album. Cross your fingers!”

My fingers are firmly crossed.

A Transparent Musical runs through Sunday, June 25 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

(featured image: Craig Schwartz Photography)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article ‘Live Through This’ Is 30 and I’m Still Mad About That Kurt Cobain Rumor
'Live Through This' album cover and Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love
Read Article J.K. Rowling’s Legal Threat to Journalists for Calling Out Holocaust Denial Backfires
J.K. Rowling
Read Article The Attacks on HBCUs Extend Beyond Tennessee
Protesters in Nashville hold a press conference to protest state repubilicans voting to vacate the entire board of HBCU Tennessee State University.
Read Article Black Creatives Sign Open Letter in Solidarity With ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Actress Francesca Amewudah-Rivers
Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in red for Romeo and Juliet
Read Article Grace Jabbari Responds to Jonathan Majors’ Sentencing in Domestic Abuse Case
Jonathan Majors leaves the Manhattan Criminal Court after his sentencing in domestic abuse case
Related Content
Read Article ‘Live Through This’ Is 30 and I’m Still Mad About That Kurt Cobain Rumor
'Live Through This' album cover and Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love
Read Article J.K. Rowling’s Legal Threat to Journalists for Calling Out Holocaust Denial Backfires
J.K. Rowling
Read Article The Attacks on HBCUs Extend Beyond Tennessee
Protesters in Nashville hold a press conference to protest state repubilicans voting to vacate the entire board of HBCU Tennessee State University.
Read Article Black Creatives Sign Open Letter in Solidarity With ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Actress Francesca Amewudah-Rivers
Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in red for Romeo and Juliet
Read Article Grace Jabbari Responds to Jonathan Majors’ Sentencing in Domestic Abuse Case
Jonathan Majors leaves the Manhattan Criminal Court after his sentencing in domestic abuse case
Author
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.