With book by MJ Kaufman and Joey Soloway and music, lyrics, and vocal arrangements by Faith Soloway, the Soloway siblings have hit it out of the park – again. After five seasons with a hit TV show about their family – and the repercussions following their father’s announcement that she now identifies as Maura, her true identity hidden for so many years – the Soloways have brought a dream to life with A TRANSPARENT MUSICAL. The story still follows the Pfefferman family as it struggles with issues of identity, gender identification, and self-expression – but now their dilemma has the added excitement of music to help in telling the tale. In 2023, the Mark Taper Forum presents the world premiere of A TRANSPARENT MUSICAL, proudly celebrating gender diversity and the unique gender identity of each company member.
Ali Pfefferman (Adina Verson) is the youngest of the Pfefferman progeny – and the most in tune with the ups and downs of self-discovery. Her Los Angeles Jewish family is filled with secrets which come tumbling out when their father (Daya Curley) announces her transgender transition to her stunned mate and children. Possibly the only person not left in complete shock is their mother Shelly (Liz Larsen), who suspected as much for years. Meanwhile, Ali’s siblings Sarah (Sarah Stiles) and Josh (Zachary Prince) must learn how to accept a new reality which they would probably prefer to ignore. All the while dealing with their own troubled relationships. But life continues at the Jewish Community Center, where an LGBTQ support group begins to draw some fire from the faithful.
Suddenly the focus shifts when Ali discovers a book written about a sex research group run by Magnus Hirschfeld (Pat Towne) in the last days of the Weimar Republic (think “Cabaret”) – and finds out that a distant relative may have been part of the radical group the Nazis termed degenerate. Ali must pursue this information if she is to grow in self-understanding and self-acceptance – even though it may entail some time travel. Slowly and inexorably, the circle begins to expand to draw in past and present, limitless variants of gender expression, society’s response to being different over the years, and Ali’s own family background.
Director Tina Landau does an excellent job of confronting the thorny issues involved in the tale, all the while maintaining compassion in the face of reality. The talented cast dig relentlessly into their character’s foibles and flaws as they present richly detailed, fully developed individuals. Kudos to Liz Larsen, whose optimistic and charming vaudevillian performance earned standing ovations. Kudos also to the Soloways, who have managed to present multifaceted people and blend them with history, culture, and religious beliefs. With nearly 20 new songs, musical director and arranger Julie McBride (orchestrations by John Clancy), A TRANSPARENT MUSICAL lives up to its title. Adam Rigg’s scenic design is fluid to accommodate the current and past, and actors wander up and down aisles to keep the movement exciting. Toni-Leslie James’ costumes, Matthew Armentrout’s hair and wig design, Jen Schriever’s lighting, and Kai Harada’s sound keep the transitions in time and place smooth and believable.
A TRANSPARENT MUSICAL offers a fascinating peek at gender identity issues, as well as issues related to self-esteem, honesty, and self-acceptance. Fans of the television series will find A TRANSPARENT MUSICAL entertaining and engrossing. This is a thought-provoking play about real people trying their best. As such, viewers who are intrigued by what motivates people and what influences their decisions will find this an absorbing production. Of course, musical theater aficionados will find this right up their alley.
A TRANSPARENT MUSICAL runs through June 25, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Ahmanson Theatre is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets start at $35. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.