The world premiere of A Transparent Musical, based on the Amazon Prime series Transparent, is underway in Los Angeles—performances began May 23 ahead of a May 31 opening night at the Mark Taper Forum, produced by Center Theatre Group. As previously announced, the work features a book by MJ Kaufman (Jagged Little Pill) and series creator Joey Soloway and a score by Faith Soloway. Tina Landau (SpongeBob SquarePants) is directing with choreography by James Alsop.
The four-season TV series Transparent following the Pfeffermans—a Jewish family living in Los Angeles, and their lives following Maura's self discovery of being a Trans woman—concluded with a musical film titled Transparent: Musicale Finale. The stage musical will tell a new story from the perspective of the youngest Pfefferman, Ali. It's based on siblings Joey Soloway and Faith Soloway's real family story, of when their parent came out later in life.
The production's scenic designer, Adam Rigg (a Tony nominee for last season's The Skin of Our Teeth), is giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the designs for the new musical. Find out what went into creating the visual world of A Transparent Musical with design process photos and commentary from Rigg below.
"This is a mid-process white model," says Rigg, "and in it you can see the seeds of where the design landed. The central location of the play is the Cecile J. Janowitz Jewish Community Center (CJJJCC), more specifically the Gymnasium Multi-Purpose Room at the CJJJCC. But the production unfolds in other locations as well including The Pfefferman family home, an East LA bar, and 1933 Berlin. In the early drafts we were exploring how the architecture of those spaces might intercept and tangle up with each other."
"A big part of the design process is the budgeting process, there’s always the before times and the after times. And while it’s always challenging to work within the confines of finances, I think the real constraints of cost are an incredibly useful part of the journey. It refines and refocuses what can sometimes be an explosion of ideas. This is a mid-process sketch after our first draft was priced out. I think sometimes these three-minute sketches can be so telling. Essentially this is where we landed, albeit with some color and proportion adjustments."
"A 1/2” Color Model Shot. In the end we made something very pedestrian and simple architecturally. I think it really gets to the heart of the space. You enter the Taper and you’re part of the JCC community space. I ended up pulling a lot of colors (the greens and golds) from the carpet and seat upholstery in the theatre and even matched all of the wood details to the insane tiger wood walls in the theatre. I found Tina Landau, the director, very clearheaded throughout the process, which was an absolute dream. To collaborate with someone so intelligent, sensitive, and confident in the visual world was such a gift."
"Inside of this very pedestrian community center, there are these moments that break from reality, that let queer/trans-expansive joy and history in. Working with lighting designer Jen Schriever and video designer Yee Eu Nam, we’re exploring ways for that essence to creep in first in ephemeral ways—light, sound, video—before it lands in the concrete ways that the costume designer Toni-Leslie James and I work with. These images are different locations or events that unfold. I love collaborating with other designers, it’s so nice to remember we don’t work in a vacuum, and we don’t have to answer every question ourselves."
"These are some digital composites of how we’re transforming the entire Taper for the show. Tina Landau had this incredible idea that I jumped on immediately: From the second the audience walks into the space, they’re in the CJJJCC. I had a blast creating a history for the JCC, working with the props department at Center Theatre Group on everything from branding and marketing for the CJJJCC to community event flyers and general community center detritus. It’s been really exciting to work in a more unconventional way, and to think about the world in a less time-based way and focus in on the small details the audience will experience as an installation."
See a time lapse video of the A Transparent Musical set being built below:
Leading the cast as Maura Pfefferman is Daya Curley, starring alongside Adina Verson (Only Murders in the Building) as Ali Pfefferman, Liz Larsen (Beautiful) as Shelley Pfefferman, Zachary Prince (Honeymoon in Vegas) as Josh Pfefferman, Sarah Stiles (Tootsie) as Sarah Pfefferman, Kasper (Amina) as Ezra, Peppermint (RuPaul's Drag Race, Head Over Heels) as Davina, and Murphy Taylor Smith (Love in Hate Nation) as Rabbi Raquel. Also in the cast are Samora la Perdida, Justin Rivers, Futaba Shioda, Natalie Weiss, Robert Pieranunzi, Jimmy Ray Bennett, Pat Towne, and Dahlya Glick.
The production features scenic design by Rigg, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Jen Schriever, sound design by Kai Harada, projection design by Yee Eun Nam, and wig design by Matthew Armentrout. The score includes orchestrations by John Clancy, with Julie McBride serving as arranger, music director, and conductor. Casting is by The Telsey Company's Patrick Goodwin and Charlie Hano with additional casting by Michael Donovan Casting's Michael Donovan and Richie Ferris. David S. Franklin is production stage manager.
A Transparent Musical joins a handful of musicals to be adapted from TV shows, a list that includes Happy Days - A New Musical, Gilligan's Island: The Musical, the forthcoming Rogers: The Musical, Schoolhouse Rock Live!, The SpongeBob Musical, and The Great British Bake Off Musical.
The run continues through June 25. Visit CenterTheatreGroup.org.
See all of Adam Rigg's scenic designs for A Transparent Musical below: