For any fan of Amazon’s Transparent, one of last season’s highlights was To Shel and Back, the cruise-ship cabaret show Shelly Pfefferman (Judith Light) based on her marriage to ex-husband Mort (now Maura). (Spoiler alert: Shelley ends up delivering a flawless, affecting performance of Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket”).
As it turns out, Shelley’s show wasn’t too far a leap from reality for Transparent writer Faith Soloway, who presented her own show — Faith Soloway and Friends: Should Transparent Become a Musical? — at New York’s Joe’s Pub on Monday night, inspired by her real-life dynamic with sister (and Transparent showrunner) Jill after their father came out as transgender.
For the show, which blended a Transparent-esque balance of comedy and poignancy, Faith brought on guests, including Transparent’s Alexandra Billings, comedian Megan Amram, performance artist Becca Kauffman, Amy White Graves, Brandon Cordeiro and actor Seth Bodie. Both Bodie and Billings took turns playing Maura, while Amram took on older daughter Sarah Pfefferman, Kauffman youngest daughter Alexandra, Cordeiro son Josh and Graves Shelly. Faith served as intermittent narrator, playing piano and occasionally calling out prominent audience members like actress and model (and Transparent guest star) Hari Naf, Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller and, yes, Light herself, who gave a standing ovation at one point during the show.
With numbers filled with Yiddish and touching on neuroses, gender neutrality and boundary issues, the cast made quite a case for Transparent making the next step onto the stage. From Graves’ “Your Boundary Is My Trigger” (a song about guilt-ridden co-dependency) to Faith’s musical one-liners (“gender is just a sausage casing”), the set list was as thought-provoking as it was hilarious. But perhaps the most memorable performance of the evening came from Billings, who, as Maura, dedicated a heartfelt song to her wife of 22 years called “Your Shoes,” noting the “gift” transitioning to her truest self.
While the future of an actual Transparent musical remains up in the air, right before the closing number, Faith reminded the audience of how well the show pairs beauty with pain: “We’re going out with a pretty little number, but it’s painful. I love painful shit.” It sounded like a pitch for a Broadway show in the making.