Transparent’s musical series finale (technically titled “Transparent Musicale Finale”) is a strange animal to be sure. Creators Jill Soloway and company explain the absence of actor Jeffrey Tambor by killing of central character Maura at the top. The vacuum left by her absence is filled by expanded roles for family matriarch Shelley (Judith Light), Maura’s best friend Davina (Alexandra Billings) and new trans character Ava (Shakina Nayfack, Difficult People).
Meanwhile, the Pfefferman brood deal with the death of their “Moppa”. Eldest daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) struggles to explain death and the Holocaust to her kids. Son Josh (Jay Duplass) gets jittery at involving his ex, Rabbi Raquel (Kathryn Hahn) with the proceedings. And youngest Pfefferman Ari (née Ali) asks their family to respect their name, non-binary idenity and desire to pursue a greater role
The results are mixed. Musical theater is a decidedly earnest art form. It’s not where we’re used to seeing the Pfeffermans. They have tended to approach most situations with more jaded cynicism and side-eye. That said, it does continue the show’s thread of exploring the family’s relationship to religious tradition. Plus, they are processing plenty of feelings and traditionally that’s when characters in a musical are most likely to burst into song. With that said, here’s our official ranking of the songs in the Transparent Musicale Finale ranked from least to most effective.
The Pfefferman kids stumble upon Shelly and the doppelgängers she has cast to play her children in a show about their lives. The result is a number with all the aggression of the “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago. This is not necessarily an ideal pairing with a song about the mysteries of motherhood. Despite an impassioned performances from Light – joined by a chorus clad in flesh-colored undergarments – it makes for some cringe-worthy moments.
This opening number is like a cross between the beginning of La La Land and a second-rate Sheryl Crow video. It gives you a sense of where all the characters are right before they learn about Maura’s death. Beyond that, it doesn’t make much of an impact.
A pair of adolescent ballerinas appear to serenade Shelley. They would seem to be incarnations of Maura and Shelley as youngsters. And their goal is to encourage her not to miss out on “her chance”. The girls sing pretty well, but it’s not completely clear why their encouragement to “come through” would spur her to write a tell-all play about her life.
This somber transition song that primarily accompanies the Pfefferman kids wandering away from their childhood home (after they learn they will not inherit it). But, frankly, the most exciting part is when you realize – after it’s over – that older sister Sarah has led them to find Rabbi Raquel!
This reiteration of the earlier “Where Have You Been” is more memorable for the character reunions it underscores than for particularly evolving the song. (Though it does add a few nice additional voices.) It is special see reappearances by characters like Sarah’s former threesome partner Lila (Alia Shawkat) and Josh’s biological son Colton (Alex MacNicoll). However, the reprise doesn’t add much to the song other than a few more voices.
This is where the list starts getting good. After resisting Raquel’s involvement earlier, late in the Transparent musical finale Josh runs to her for help throwing Ari a “Bart Mitzvah”. (For anyone keeping track, yes, that is the show’s gender non-binary blending of “bar” and “bat” mitzvah.) The number starts as a sweet little duet about them reconciling their troubled past. As their excitement mounts, it takes a nice turn and ramps up into a higher-energy portion that may remind listeners of Rent or The Last Five Years.
This hauntingly beautiful number musicalizes a piece of scripture in the tradition of great songs from Godspell. The passage – which Ari shares with her siblings – suggests that children who are not afraid to “run from [their] father’s house” will receive blessings. The song features beautiful harmony sung by Ari (and their doppelgänger from Shelly’s play).
There’s a time-honored maxim that suggests the most effective pieces of musical theater are the ones that move the plot along. That’s certainly true of this funny, zippy number, in which Davina and her lawyer (Richard Kind) reveal to the kids that Maura left their house to Davina. Its manic energy has the manic quality of “Have an Egg Roll, Mister Goldstone” from Gypsy.
Maura finally gets a voice! Shakina Nayfack and Judith Light deliver this touching old-love duet, which recalls the bittersweet “Do I Love You?” from Fiddler on the Roof. It suggests that Maura and Shelly were shared a true bond – despite how Maura’s gender identity eventually evolved.
The vibe of Fiddler on the Roof meets Avenue Q in this irreverent, high-energy finale of the Transparent Musical Finale. It sees the cast move from the dressed-in-black grief of sitting shiva into a colorful celebration of life. Even as a non-jew, I got the sense that some of these lyrics verge on blasphemous. But after a story mainly devoted to death, this closes the show with a welcome focus on life.
This may be the best of all the Transparent musical finale’s numbers where a musical sequence begins in the “real world” and then the normal setting is heightened. In this case, the meeting room at Raquel’s camp gets a glitzy makeover. It’s flooded with hot colored lights, and even the beanbag chairs turn gold. Meanwhile, Raquel’s casual athletic wear is replaced by a skin-tight hot pants ensemble. While the song she’s singing actually contains a lot of great, practical advice about dealing with grief, it’s delivered with wild sensuality and showmanship. For Godspellfans, this is the finale’s answer to that show’s raucous “Turn Back, O Man.” And it is an instant blockbuster. Brava, Kathryn Hahn!
Most of the cast is assembled for Maura’s interment. A rabbi gives a painfully inpet tribute that shows he is clearly a stranger to the Pfefferman clan. But Davina and the youth from the LGBT Center sweep in to deliver a simpler – yet far more appropriate tribute. With “Let her be okay,” Davina sings as harmony swells behind her. “And let her find her way.” It definitely gets the tears flowing. And perhaps the best thing I could say about it is that it would have been utterly appropriate here whether or not this had been a musical finale. Music is almost always the most moving part of a funeral, and the Transparent musical finale is no exception.
You can watch the Transparent musical finale here.
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