By Katarina Ivancik
Coming from the producers of Parenthood and Friday Night Lights, Rise is living up to high expectations. It premiered March 13th and is airing every Tuesday 10 PM EST; the latest episodes are available online on NBC’s website.
Reminiscent of TV shows like Glee and recently successful movie musicals like La La Land, a new NBC show about a high school theatre has recently premiered; the show is tugging at the heartstrings of veteran theatre kids and first-timers alike. The show takes place in Stanton High School, where students have a new teacher, Lou Mazzuchelli— played by Josh Radnor from the famous sitcom How I Met Your Mother— who has a vision to revive the drama program with a powerful, albeit controversial, production of Spring Awakening.
Before they went into the rehearsal process the school had already granted permission for them to produce the show. However, after a second glance at the script, they recant permission and force the students to put on Pirates of Penzance instead, which is still a classic and a great show to produce but lacks the groundbreaking impact the students were aiming for. The administration goes so far as to replace Mr. Mazzu, to ensure that future shows will be safe and traditional. Naturally the students revolt against it and along with their drama teachers they fight, not only for this new production, but for the future of their arts programs. Their dilemma seems small, but the heart of the issue is really centered on how much schools value the arts.
The actors are well cast and the script is good by all standards. Like most things it has its clichés: the athlete with the secret singing talent, the shy girl with the incredible voice who gets cast as the lead and has a crush on her co-star. In fact, anyone who only reads the character descriptions might see the show as a High School Musical rip-off or Glee wannabe, but despite these clichés, Rise hits on deeper issues ranging from high school struggles to political changes that threaten the future of the arts. This show is not another Glee, it is its own unique production with an emotional core that is being compared to successful dramas like This Is Us. Unlike Glee the material is heavier, the issues are deeper, and as fun as the Glee music was, Rise’s soundtrack is a true testament to musical theatre.
Most importantly Rise is a reminder that every child, no matter their situation, should be loved and welcomed in the arts. And because of this, arts programs in public schools should be a prioritized necessity, not an underfunded afterthought.