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Jill Soloway wants to take 'Transparent' musical to Broadway

The “Transparent” creator also revealed the hit show’s musical movie finale would be released with an original soundtrack album.
Image: Jill Soloway speaks during the Amazon Prime Video Visionary Voices segment of the 2019 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour
Jill Soloway speaks during the Amazon Prime Video Visionary Voices segment of the 2019 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on Feb. 13, 2019 in Pasadena, California.Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

“Transparent” creator Jill Soloway has big plans for the show’s upcoming evolution into a musical. Soloway revealed on Wednesday that the show’s musical movie finale would also be released with an original soundtrack album — and they’ve got an eye toward ultimately taking “Transparent” to Broadway.

The “Transparent” movie will premiere later this year — too late for Emmy consideration, but in the mix for Golden Globes contention. Amazon is still mulling how to roll out the 2-hour project, including potentially a theatrical release.

“We want to have everybody have that ‘wow’ moment when they see the movie for the first time,” Soloway told Variety on Wednesday after Amazon’s day at the Television Critics Association press tour. “We take so many risks.”

When star Jeffrey Tambor was fired by Amazon Studios last February — he had been accused of sexual harassment on set by transgender actresses Van Barnes and Trace Lysette — Soloway said they weren’t sure the show would ever continue. “Transparent” had been set to produce a regular fifth season until the Tambor scandal derailed those plans.

“I was probably afraid of that, that it might be easier just to stop,” Soloway said. By last summer, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said the streamer and Soloway were still mulling different ways to wrap up the show.

“We would never have wanted to take a special, incredible show like that and just end it, unceremoniously,” Salke said earlier during Amazon’s press tour executive session.

Ultimately, Soloway went back to an early plan that they and their sister Faith Soloway had kicked around, even prior to “Transparent”: A musical inspired by their parent who had came out as transgender.

“Faith has been writing these songs for so long,” Soloway said. “She’s a lyricist, she’s a composer, she’s a Soloway. It’s not like we’re just sticking songs on to the show. The songs are coming from a deep place inside of our own family’s history. Faith had a residency at Joe’s Pub, at the Public in New York, where I would go and listen to these songs being sung by other people.”

Song titles include “Your Boundary is My Trigger,” and another one called “Sepulveda Boulevard,” which is sung in the movie by Amy Landecker (who plays Sarah).

“In some ways when we didn’t have Jeffrey and when we didn’t really know what was happening, we didn’t know what we have, we had the songs,” Soloway said. “And so the songs became the new soul of the show that allowed us to not only keep going but keep going in a new way using a new language.”

In planning the cast album, Soloway said the film “is so sing-able. We had a cast and crew party over the weekend, and people were just singing and singing these songs. You can’t get them out of your head.”

Soloway is still refraining from sharing too many details about the plot of the “Transparent” musical movie. Tambor had played the show’s central character, transgender woman Maura, and buzz surrounding the film has suggested that Tambor’s character dies. But there had also been discussion that perhaps the role should be taken over by a real-life transgender actress.

“See the movie, there are surprises in there and we dealt with that question,” Soloway said of the idea of recasting the role. “We’re not talking too much exactly about the story or the plot yet but it definitely deals with loss.”

Soloway added that the movie also serves as a bit of a series finale. “There’s definitely a sense of closure,” they said.

Without Tambor, Soloway confirms that Judith Light (who plays Shelly Pfefferman, Maura’s ex-wife) is now the film’s focal point, and it’s a continuation of the narrative from the show’s first four seasons.

“[Light] was unbelievable singing and dancing, doing these kicks,” Soloway said. “She’s an age that she’s more in shape, more energetic, more alive than everybody on the set. We all just worship her. She’s really moving to the forefront in the movie… I love having Shelly have the lead and let her have her storyline. Because we got to cast so many people dancing, we cast a lot of women who are over 65 and 70. Old Jews love the show and I’m happy to make television for them.”

The circumstances also sped up Soloway’s eventual plan for Light’s character, making it a key part of the movie. “In my mind I always thought it was going to go on for quite a few seasons and Shelly was always trying to get in front of that microphone,” they said. “Shelly was trying to sing and so there could have been more music over the years.”

Besides Light, the rest of the show’s core cast is also back, including the Pfefferman siblings, played by Amy Landecker (Sarah), Jay Duplass (Josh), and Gaby Hoffman (Ali). Kathryn Hahn also returns as Rabbi Raquel Fein.

“When people would say to us, are you sure you have a show without Jeffrey, we have some of the most amazing actors, comedians, performers, singing and dancing,” Soloway said.

“And because it’s kind of a finale there’s definitely scenes toward the end where, as we like to say, everybody in Springfield sort of shows up. You’ll see all of your favorites — Cherry Jones, Melora Hardin, all these people from different seasons all come back.”

The “Transparent” movie had a feature-sized budget to work with, Soloway said, which gave them the opportunity to think “more cinematically. I wanted the frames to be more beautiful and I wanted everything to just feel like it was at a higher level, more thought-through and more special… It was a movie, so we shot it like a movie.”

The film, which just wrapped production, was shot in Los Angeles, as well as the central house in Pasadena and also on the Paramount lot.

Meanwhile, the switch to becoming a musical made the “Transparent” cast a “little bit nervous” at first, “but everybody started working with voice coaches and learned to sing,” Soloway said.

Ryan Heffington, the Grammy-nominated choreographer behind music videos such as Sia’s “Chandelier” and “The Greatest,” also choreographed the “Transparent” movie.

“Watching everyone’s talent blossom as they learn the songs and the choreography has been so heartwarming,” Soloway said. “As we were starting to choreograph, as a director I was learning how to turn these very familiar characters into people who sing and dance. It’s not like now we’re in a fantasy, it feels very organic, like it makes sense that these people are singing and dancing.”

Next up, Soloway has an eye on Broadway, utilizing these songs and perhaps telling the full story of “Transparent.”

“We’re in the process of going down the road where you do workshops and then you do off-Broadway and then you do Broadway,” Soloway said.

As for the legacy of “Transparent,” Soloway said they marveled at how much the world has changed in five years, including in Hollywood.

“As I’ve been out and about in the TV business I see that people will more naturally say things like, ‘we want a trans writer on our staff” or ‘we want a non-binary character on our show,'” Soloway added. “And it’s not like a huge deal. I meet lots of trans people who feel like there’s room for them in all areas of other shows. Now the TV business is wanting to pull people in.”

Beyond “Transparent,” Soloway said they planned to pitch a few new ideas to Salke in the coming weeks. “I definitely want to make more TV shows,” they said. “I have a big idea that’s also a personal story and I want to direct more movies. It’s time to open up and put my foot on the gas and keep going. I’m so happy to be back.”