Transparent: Musicale Finale takes a grieving Pfefferman family on a journey toward healing with music, Jewish traditions, and some truly bizarre turns of fantasy.
Maura dies. Right off the mark. (Thus eliminating the problem of what to do about the actor playing the part.) Which leaves two hours for the family to come together to attend to the details of a death.
Shelly (Judith Light) decides to let herself come through by staging a musical about her life. She brings in look-alike fake Pfeffermans to sing and dance with her. They are played by Shakina Nayfack, Jo Lampert, Lesli Margherita and Erik Liberman. The Uber driver/pianist she brings in to provide the music is Faith Soloway, who actually did write the music for the movie.
Shakina Nayfack plays Ava, the stand-in for Maura in Shelly’s play. Shakina Nayfack is a brilliant addition to the cast, and not simply because there’s finally a trans woman playing Maura. She lights up the place. She’s a certified scene stealer – not an easy task when you’re opposite Judith Light much of the time.
Ava is also Ali’s (Gaby Hoffmann) marijuana dealer. Sorry, it isn’t Ali. It’s Ari now. When Ava and Ari meet they quickly introduce themselves.
“I’m Ava. She/Her.”
“I’m Ari. They/Them.”
Modern day introductions cut straight to the bone.
The Pfefferman siblings Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass), and Ari stick together like glue. They view the body together. They watch the cremation. They are piled together like puppies much of the time in an effort to find some tiny fraction of comfort in their situation.
And they also sing and dance. Nobody gets out of singing and dancing in this one. The music and staging bear a strong resemblance to familiar Broadway numbers. The lyrics are pure Pfefferman. Nobody is going to leave the theater singing about boundaries and feeling your pain after seeing this. It isn’t Chicago.
The rabbi Raquel (Kathryn Hahn) does a couple of hot numbers. Davina (Alexandra Billings) sings – she’s actually really good at it.
The music veers into a kind of fantasy. Singers in underwear and house slippers. Dancers in vivid multicolored costumes like LGBTQ rainbows. Dancing in temple while stealing a Torah.
But all the particular individual and group grieving over Maura brings some good results. Shelly decides not to have a play after all. She may learn to hold her children in love rather than merely holding on to them. She wants to bring together a Joyocaust to counteract the pain and suffering of the Holocaust. Josh might actually care about someone other than himself in the future. Josh organizes a Bart (bar + bat, get it?) Mitzvah for Ari right in the middle of Maura’s shiva.
I loved that so many actors from past seasons wanted to show up for Transparent: Musicale Finale. Some had a few lines, some just danced by. Here are a few who got in on the big musical goodbye: Tig Notaro, Alia Shawkat, Michaela Watkins, Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, Melora Hardin, Jenny O’Hara, Jerry Adler, Trace Lysette, and regular Rob Huebel. There were others, too. What better excuse to get everyone together than a funeral?
I also appreciated how packed the cast was with trans actors. They were everywhere. Anybody who says they can’t find a trans actor for a part needs to talk to Jill Soloway.
The directing from Jill Soloway was pure genius. The angles, the framing, the way people moved around each other – very musical theater. Sisters Jill and Faith Soloway wrote this finale together. It was a creative end to a story that was actually about their parent and their lives after their parent/whole family transitioned.
There is talk that a musical version of the family’s story might be live on Broadway one of these days.
Check out the trailer.
How did you feel about ending this story with music?