The Pfefferman family—self-centered, generous, inappropriate, and lovable—say goodbye in the feature-length musical finale to the Emmy-winning Amazon series Transparent. After five years, the characters played by Judith Light, Kathryn Hahn, Gabby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and Alexandra Billings are giving audiences closure in songs written by show creator Jill Soloway's sister, Faith.
Here, Faith breaks down the score for the special event, which premiered on Amazon September 27 and includes such songs as "Your Boundary Is My Trigger," "Sit in It," and "Joyacaust." Spoilers abound below!
It felt risky. This was the first song that told our Transparent viewers that we are not the show they were expecting. But there’s no turning back from a musical, and so we knew we had to start in this abrupt break from form. Just leaning and launching through a Pfefferman.
I was looking for a song that would name the L.A. malaise and connect the family in that familiarity. And if you know L.A., that means driving. My method: Sit at the piano as the character. I did this as Sarah driving her car. The chords and arrangement come through the feeling, which was a dulled, resigned anger of internal and external traffic congestion. I used Sarah to be the voice of the whole family. I loved how Amy resonated with it too, and how hard she worked on this song to make it her own.
“Come Through Shelly”
Super insider info here: This song came in late, after we shot and reconfigured about with timelines. We needed another song. Plain and simple. And it was a very necessary missing song, Shelly’s “I want” song. But we wanted it to come as a warning from young Shelly and Maura, not Shelly. So I built around what I had written for the closing, pulling phrases from it, serving to almost taunt and haunt Shelly. Our young Maura and young Shelly actors happen to be amazing singers. How lucky was I?
The turning point. Davina needs to tell the Pfeffs the big news, that Maura made a change to her will and leaves the house to Davina, not them. A pivotal moment that we wanted expressed in song, but didn’t know exactly how. Being trained at Second City and loving improvising songs, we did exactly that to find this song. In the improv, one of our writers was bumbling around as Howard, and I forced the song to start there. It was a great discovery, because we didn’t want the song to be overwrought or scoldy. So in the improv we were able to channel that classic Transparent style of bad communication equaling awkward moments.
“Where Do We Go”
What a big, wacky, wonderful labyrinth-like journey it was to find this particular song.
I originally had been working on a hopeful stage version of Transparent. “Where Did You Go” was initially written for the children to question Maura after she comes out to them as trans. I wanted to braid the three attitudes of the children into the endless questions, as they grapple with the news.
Once we knew we were doing the musical finale, we adapted the lyrics to deal more with loss of a parent. And we had the luxury of our Pfake Pfeffs in Shelly’s play, to sing the verse based on my original take. It truly is one of my favorite moments of the finale, Shelly searching for her play, as her children spin away from their childhood home in a daze.
At first, I was dubious of putting this song close to “Goddam House,” but tonally it serves as a great departure from the wackiness of that song and draws in new colors for the sound and story.
“Sit In It”
For Raquel's number, Jill gave me the title “Sit In It.” We wanted a teachable moment song that would unleash from Raquel, after years of soul torture with the Pfeffermans. There was no question that I wanted Kathryn to sing something sassy as Rabbi Raquel. In fact, the way that I found songs for this project was matching genre to the character and actor. Knowing who I'm working with always informs my songwriting. With my all of my past projects, I would cast first, write second, and I still swear by that method. Kathryn is a musical theater star. She's got the skill and talent to sell any kind of song. The immediate image I had for her was a Sweet Charity bump-n-grind type tune, to play against the piousness of her Rabbiness. Ryan worked this number really hard. It's probably the most classic "song and dance" style tune we have in the show.
“Your Boundary Is My Trigger”
This is the first song I wrote in search of a musical version of Transparent. The motherlode, mothership of a mother’s pain. I channeled Shelly, my mother, and my own neurosis to build this song. It actually laid itself out there pretty easily.
The actual title came from an exploration from another show I wrote where a mother much like Shelly could not understand the concept of a child needing a boundary from her. It’s a pretty elemental parent-child debate.
Again, I sat at the piano and improvised Sarah and Shelly. After writing them for so long, it was a really fun thing to do. I also knew I wanted it to be Shelly’s anthem. And maybe an anthem for all parents struggling with their children’s boundaries.
It’s an honor like I’ve never known to have Judith Light explode this song into fireworks as she did.
“Run From Your Father’s House”
I was looking for a song, and a new twist on the Torah portion for Ali/Ari’s bat mitzvah, with the original translation of Lech-Lecha being “Go from your father’s house.” I liked “run from” rather than “go from” because of the internal rhyme, and the dreamy quality. It was a great experiment, knowing Gaby Hoffman’s tone and finding something quiet and strong at the same time. I love the way she performed it.
We were working so fast to get things recorded that we actually got the best version on a remote session, in the tiny closet of her trailer as her baby boy was sleeping. Perfection.
“Let Her Be Okay”
This song actually comes from a very personal place, and timing wise almost an omen. When we as a community went through our painful moments, I was also going through some hard times personally. I needed to travel back and forth from Boston to L.A. in order to work on the show. When we went on a brief hiatus, it actually brought me some relief, because I was able to stay home a bit more, to tend to my teenage daughter who was going through some hard challenges. The song was actually written about my daughter, and a prayer to myself, to calm myself down in the anxiety and pain of it all.
Once we understood what our story for Maura would be, I was able to fine tune the song into a song about letting go and saying goodbye to a loved one who passes on. With Alexandra Billings’ deep interpretation, the song took on even more meaning, almost as a global healing hymn for humanity.
Damn, that woman should be president. But for now, you will be able to catch her in Wicked on Broadway in 2020! We cannot wait for that!
True story. We asked our own Moppa what it was that made her choose our mom. She said it was her sense of humor, and another reason she jokingly tossed off was the fact that our mom was so small, it would force our Moppa not to wear her clothes. Though she downplayed it, it struck Jill and me as deeply sad, and yet very real. I thought it was a beautiful exploration of how someone still in the closet might build a nest with someone. What really made me love this song was how deeply Shakina responded to it, and how gorgeously she sang it. I get the chills every time I hear it.
I actually wrote this song in the ‘90s when I performed as a folk singer in Boston. It’s an ode to the commitment of relationship, as well as an ode to family. Remarkably, it completely interconnected with Josh and Raquel’s story. When Kathryn and Jay sang it in workshops, we all felt the movie musical possibilities open up and lift off.
Blame Jill for the title. Or praise them for it. I think it’s genius. And it’s all I had to go on, but for a songwriter, a good title is half the work.
I love the challenge of selling a sacrilegious song. As the finale, it needed to be as big and bawdy as possible, and also it needed to sell the insane message crafted by Shelly Pfefferman. All she wanted was a Jewish drinking song that could potentially heal the trauma of the Holocaust. As a cast, I think it also worked to help us heal so much of our own pain, in learning the hard lessons we did.
The recording of it was insane. Anne Previn and I were never 100 percent sure who was ultimately going to be singing what, and so we had everybody try everything. My favorite memory of that recording was having Alexandra Grey do her gospel runs all over it. The song is a real kitchen sink collaboration and I love how hard it rocks. I love the lunacy and joy every single person brought to it. And I love that it finally won my mother over, who had some obvious issues with it. I obviously love it and am not hiding my love for it.
A more emotional highlight was when one of our dancers pulled me aside to tell me how healing the song was for her. Her parents are Holocaust survivors, and every time she performed the dance, she felt a reverence within the irreverence.
In all honesty, that’s all I can hope for. That we did cross a line, but with very purposeful intent. And that we can and still pay tribute to our world’s darkest years in history, by reversing the dark curse that keeps us in so much pain.