What can a TV show do when it suddenly loses its star?
Most quit, a few push on … and one created a musical.
That didn’t happen quickly. “Transparent” debuts its musical finale Friday, almost two years after the last 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 said. “We had been dreaming of a Broadway musical one day.”
That still might happen, Faith said. First was this crisis: Facing charges of sexual and verbal abuse, Jeffrey Tambor left the show in November of 2017; 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 big 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 turn into Chita Rivera?” Alexandra Billings asked.
Light, who hadn’t done a musical in decades, found her inner diva. “Transparent” was going out in a high-volume, high-octane, high-emotion way.
— “Transparent Musicale Finale” debuts Friday, Amazon Prime