INTERVIEW: ERIK LIBERMAN Talks "Transparent" Musical Finale, Working Alongside Judith Ligh
Erik Liberman Head shot
Erik Liberman, known for his illustrious Broadway career and credits such as War Paint, The Band’s Visit, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, talks with RyeTheNewsGuy.com about the final episode of Amazon's Transparent. He lets us in on the "musical finale movie" of Amazon's hit original series, working alongside the incomparable Judith Light, what we can expect, and how Harold (Hal) Prince is to thank for his career.
With rave reviews throughout its run from The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, The New York Times, and many others, Amazon's hit series Transparent will have its final curtain call in the form of an unforgettable, show-stopping 2-hour musical movie.
After the sudden death of Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor), Shelley Pfefferman (Judith Light) embarks on creating a play that represents her family and to celebrate the life of their lost loved one. The finale features returning cast members including Judith Light, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Alexandra Billings, and many more, as well as a number of fan favorite characters from throughout the seasons.
Check out this exciting interview before the final episode of Transparent airs on September, 27th.
So, can you tell me a little bit more about the final musical episode of Transparent? Are there going to be new songs, old songs, re-works of old pieces--What can we expect? Great question! It's all original music masterfully composed by Faith Soloway, who is the sibling of our show’s creator, Jill Soloway. It's a really beautiful score. As you may know, Transparent is based on the true story of Jill and Faith’s parents; Jill's expression of that became Transparent as we all came to know it on Amazon four years ago. Then Jill and Faith came together to compose what they are calling this "musicale finale!" What made them decide to make the finale a musical movie? Where did the idea come from? I think the spirit of the show has always been musical, even operatic, in scale. And with the death of Maura, who was played by Jeffrey Tambor, the themes become even more exalted. As you and I know from the land of theatre, when you can't act it, you sing it, when you can't sing it, you dance it. So, it became a new language for Jill and Faith to explore in order to broach the really difficult moment when these characters lose Maura. Wow that's so special. What was it like to work alongside the FABULOUS Judith Light?
Well, first of all, I absolutely love Judith Light and not just since I watched Who's the Boss? growing up. When I was probably 14 years old, they were trying to pass an amendment in Colorado, where I lived, and it was an anti-gay amendment. I remember there was a fundraiser I attended, and Judith Light flew out for it and I was seated between her and Martina Navratilova. At that moment, I feel like Judith, in some unspoken way, gave me the courage to be who I am — so the opportunity to thank her all these years later has held special meaning to me.
The other incredible thing about Judith is that she's just a constant explorer. She's on the brink of discovery all the time - there's everything young about her. What I mean by that is she just keeps herself at the precipice of wonder and to be near that on set is so refreshing because there's absolutely no cynicism. There's no staleness. She's very alive to the moment and game for exploration and that's just the best possible person to work with on a set or on a stage.
She’s truly such an iconic woman with everything she's done. And with Transparent being LGBT focused, I'm sure that held a special place in her heart.
She's been a tireless advocate for the community not just as a humanitarian, but in the projects she chooses — and she's just so humble! We celebrated her birthday, the entire cast and crew, and she shared this beautiful quote by George Bernard Shaw. You can look it up, but it's the one where he talks about wanting to be used up by the end of his life as a light unto others—and that's exactly what Judith is.
Judith Light and cast members from "Transparent"
So, without revealing too much, what can we expect to see in the finale? Are there any little tidbits you can reveal? Well, what I can share is that Judith's character, Shelly Pfefferman, attempts to work through her grief by gathering an ensemble of actors, basically to play her family and create a bit of reflection for her own children so they can recover their voices by seeing people who use their voices for a living—actors, singers, and dancers. So, it's a beautiful play within a play around the healing power of art. And I'm one of those actors. It feels like an appropriate way of dealing with the heightened themes of death and rebirth, which is what this finale is all about. I'm totally looking forward to seeing it. On that same note of being surrounded by great actors, you have had such an illustrious career with many credits to your name. What’s been your favorite Broadway credit and why? Well, it's always special to originate a role. I was talking with somebody today about when the composer of a new show asks you what key you would feel best singing their song in, and you then realize—having listened to a million original cast recordings yourself—that anyone who comes into the part after you will be singing it in that key!
That, and maybe creating a moment onstage in collaboration with a living writer—let's say you suggest a line and that line or piece of business ends up as part of the map of the show forever. It gives me a thrill to see productions where someone else is now giving that part their all, knowing that it came through a map that we built together, the original team. That's special.
I remember hearing Chita Rivera say that somebody asked her, "Didn't you feel bad when Rita Moreno won the Oscar for West Side Story when you had originated the role of Anita?" she said, "No, because I knew I got to breathe first life into that character."
Judith Light and cast members from "Transparent"
That is so special. So, staying on this topic of you as an actor and your career, can you tell me a little bit about your book “Luminous Life”. Well, that’s really a book that I contributed to because my father is an author and has a very unique history as an eye doctor. He himself was legally blind, which means you can only see the big “E” on the eye chart. And he restored his vision through a meditation about 40 years ago and started sharing with his optometric clients how insight affects eyesight. Then he started using light and color through the eyes to help people heal lots of different ailments, visual, psychological, and physical beyond eyesight.
He ended up writing a number of books and then we collaborated on his third book, which is called “Wisdom From an Empty Mind” and then “Luminous Life” was the fourth book. I contributed to “Luminous Life” in the beginning and then my sister took it over, but all told, it's just about living with conscious awareness and noticing the messages we get and whether we heed them or not and how that creates obstacles or flow in our lives. Is there anything else you would like to leave us with before we part? Sure. I have a book which will be coming out about Jayne Mansfield and how she was a pop culture pioneer who bridged the gap between onscreen and offscreen stardom. So, she was ostensibly the first reality star. It's a study in how we came to be where we are now, a world in which a reality star can run the White House.
Also, I like to think that beyond being an actor or writer or director, I am a creator— we all are. Hal Prince was the man who gave me my Broadway debut and was responsible for many of my jobs up to and including The Band’s Visit, and I just feel that anyone who is interested in how art can make a difference should really take a deep look at his mission and his life because he had such a deep impact on thousands of us—millions of us! What was the first show he cast you in?
LoveMusik. It's funny, a bunch of us gathered in front of the Majestic Theater the night that he passed to watch the lights dim and we didn't know who was going to be there, but he was still there, behind the curtain somehow—because one person said to me, “Oh, you know that job you got?”—that was my first directing job—"Well, Hal was the one who recommended you for that!” And then Hal’s longtime assistant, a wonderful friend, said, “I'll never forget when David Yazbek finished writing, ‘Answer Me,’ and within five seconds Hal said, ‘This is Erik Liberman's song.’” So that's always going to be in my heart—Hal’s spirit of generosity and his quest to leave things better than he found them. That’s my mission now.