After their 75-year-old parent came out as a transgender woman, Joey and Faith Soloway began to consider their own identities, and their family’s dynamics, in new ways. Then, they had an idea.
“The very first thing we wanted to do was make a musical,” Joey recalled to The Times. “We actually shot some scenes on an iPhone about our parent transitioning and what it’s like to be their children.”
That effort was shelved when Amazon Studios picked up “Transparent,” which broke ground as the first scripted television show to center on a transitioning transgender character and won eight Emmy Awards throughout its four-season run. Inspired by Joey and Faith’s real-life experiences, the half-hour dark comedy chronicled how Maura Pfefferman’s decision to transition later in life affected her and the rest of her Los Angeles-based Jewish family.
“As specific as ‘Transparent’ is to Maura’s journey, it is also about the destructive nature of shameful secrecy in general,” wrote Times critic Mary McNamara in her 2014 review of the series’ debut. “That all the Pfefferman kids are emotionally stalled out in one way or another is not divorced from their father’s plight. Presumably, her decision to be true to herself will offer her children a chance to do that as well.”
The Soloway siblings are returning to their original idea nearly 10 years after the series premiered. “A Transparent Musical,” playing at the Mark Taper Forum through June 25, examines each of the Pfeffermans’ epiphanies about the expectations long placed upon them, whether by themselves, each other or society at large. Once Maura makes her announcement, her three adult kids begin to interrogate their own respective identities: a wife who’s impossibly perfect, a bachelor who’s content without depth, and a daughter who’s close with her father.
“We all live by, act out and are trapped within versions of a standing order, whether it’s the roles we play in our family or the clothes we unconsciously wear to signal our identity,” said director Tina Landau. “This show is all about finding ways to be free of those labels, and to be released into more expansive ways of seeing the world and each other. It’s a glimpse of a possible world that is more fluid, flexible, kaleidoscopic and multitudinous.”
Like the TV series, “A Transparent Musical” doesn’t shy away from the Pfeffermans’ flaws as they try to become truer versions of themselves. “So often, characters on television are shinier than normal, their lives just a little bit prettier,” said MJ Kaufman, who co-wrote the musical’s book with Joey Soloway. “This family was portrayed with warts and all. Everything was gritty and difficult, but it was really wonderful to watch because it was real. We all made sure that carried over to this show.”
The musical still dwells on their intergenerational and intersectional discords — albeit this time with upbeat numbers, disco balls and dance breaks in the multipurpose room of their local Jewish Community Center. And though the series wrapped with a musical film, all of the songs in “A Transparent Musical” are written specifically for the stage.
“So much of this show feels like a celebration, a communal party, a prayer, and the audience gets to not just watch it but bring themselves to it,” said composer-lyricist Faith Soloway. “That’s the best thing about musicals: being with the characters as they live their lives, experiencing their immense pain and their immense joy.”
Just as “Transparent” came to prioritize LGBTQ+ representation in front of and behind the camera, its musical iteration features an entirely queer creative team, and more than half of the show’s cast is transgender, gender-nonconforming or gender-expansive.
“It feels healing to not constantly have to educate and fight for my trans colleagues to be in the room and play the roles that were written for them,” said Kaufman of the project’s notable inclusion. “It’s just, we’re all here, we’re all being given permission to just be artists. It’s really beautiful.”
Maura Pfefferman — played onscreen by Jeffrey Tambor, who won two Emmys for his performance and was later fired over allegations of sexual misconduct — is portrayed onstage by trans actor Daya Curley. That this seminal role is now being played by a transgender woman is crucial and somewhat corrective for the creators, but it’s also been an invaluable gift for the performer herself.
“I consider it a gigantic honor and responsibility to play this character,” said Curley. “I’ve always been queer, but I have never been around so many trans and nonbinary and queer people so consistently, creating something together. Because of this show, I feel like I’ve finally found my chosen family, something I’ve searched for my whole life. It’s changed me forever.”
Likewise, Adina Verson has made their own self-discovery in playing Maura’s youngest child, Ali, who questions gender norms after Maura’s coming-out. “I never thought I would play the lead in a musical because I didn’t feel like musical theater had a place for me,” said Verson, who is nonbinary.
“Taking center stage and singing songs by myself to this beautiful house of the Mark Taper Forum is so strange and special and affirming. It has made me see that I do have a place, and that I am being seen the way that I feel, which I often don’t know that I am.”
“A Transparent Musical” is making its world premiere amid unprecedented legislative action targeting transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming individuals. “We’re being so misunderstood,” said Joey Soloway, who is transgender. “Some people think that transness is this hobby that we’re choosing to do to annoy people, when in fact, it’s who we are.”
“The challenge is just landing the message of this show in a way that makes a difference,” added Faith Soloway.
“Art can change people’s mind sometimes, and I hope that people who don’t get it but want to get it will have their minds shifted a little bit about what transness is and what the limitations of gender categorization and the binary has done, what we’ve been suffering under the expectations of in the performance of these roles.”
Regardless, Joey considers the opening of “A Transparent Musical” a long-awaited win.
“As soon as I got the season order for ‘Transparent,’ the first call I made was asking Faith to come work on the show,” Joey recalled. “We’ve always been partners, twins, bros, buddies, besties. And they were really there for me during the insanity of the television show.
“Faith and I have been dreaming about having our own musical on Broadway our entire lives, and this show is Faith’s music — these little melodies and tunes I’ve been hearing on our family piano forever. So I’m excited to be there for them during the insanity of this process and help them have their moment.”
‘A Transparent Musical’
Where: Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave, L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 25. (Call for exceptions.)
Tickets: $40-$129 (subject to change)
Info: or centertheatregroup.org
Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes with one intermission
COVID protocol: Check centertheatregroup.org/safety for current and updated information.