TRANS AM is the autobiographical tale of Lisa Stephen Friday’s life so far – her upbringing in conservative Fayetteville, her rise to fame, her fall from grace, her journey to rebuild, and, most importantly, her path of self-discovery. Lisa shows us what it’s like to struggle with an identity when you don’t have the vocabulary or worldview to explain it to yourself or others, how to find and build support systems, and how to find the bravery to push forward even when you don’t know what the next step is.
It’s not that Lisa’s story is one of pure triumph – there are many dark moments, and her story is far from over. But this particular telling comes from a vantage point of the wisdom Lisa has gained over the years, one that allows her to recognize her dark moments with clarity, to be forgiving to herself while still repentant to those who were affected by her actions. But it also allows her to find strength in all she’s faced and survived, and to recognize her power and talent as well.
And she is incredibly talented. The show features songs Lisa wrote and performed with Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday at the height of their fame in the New York rock circuit in the early 2000s. The songs are catchy, emotional, and personal; following the performance, I immediately pulled up her music on YouTube so I could listen to it again. But part of what makes Lisa a good songwriter is that she’s a good storyteller, and getting to hear her music interwoven with her story makes TRANS AM a particularly poignant experience. Her attention to detail and wonderful turns of phrase are entrancing, and paint powerful images of her memories for the audience. Likewise, Lisa’s delivery makes each moment recounted (most notably the plane scene and her band’s last road trip and performance) feel as though we’re watching them play out in real time.
Behind the scenes, there’s an additional layer of emotion: TRANS AM is directed by Lisa’s old bandmate, Fred Berman. Berman’s presence is particularly noteworthy after the audience learns about how the band broke up and lost contact for over a decade before reuniting for a performance in 2017; it also speaks to the strength of the foundations Lisa has built over her life, a strength that reverberates through the show itself.
TRANS AM is a powerful, honest portrayal of a fascinating and gifted woman, and brings a beautiful blend of storytelling and performance to the stage (and our screens). With its compelling story, sensational music, and deep emotionality, TRANS AM is a show that stays with audiences in the best way, and makes you excited to see what Lisa’s next steps will be.