Your new obsession has arrived in the form of ‘Rise!’ The series premiere was full of so many inspiring moments and incredible characters. Let’s recap what went down!
Rise is set in the fictional small town of Stanton, Pennsylvania, where everyone knows everyone. The show centers on the students and teachers at the local high school, including Lillette Suarez. Lillette walks into school with her friend Simon, who encourages her to try out for Grease. She keeps saying no. The star quarterback, Robbie Thorne, keeps giving her the eye. A fellow student criticizes Lillette’s “slutty” outfit and her friend Gwen says, “Like mother, like daughter.”
Lou, who’s been a teacher at the high school for nearly two decades, wants to be the new head of the theater program. The principal easily gives him the job. The principal could care less about the department. Lou is forced to break it to fellow teacher Tracy Wolfe that he’s the new director. She is pissed off something fierce, especially since she’s given her blood, sweat, and tears to the program. While the troupe has been practicing for Grease, Lou wants to try something very different. When Lou tells his wife about his new job, she’s shocked. He didn’t run this by her, and this will mean a lot of time away from his family. Lou thinks he’s got it all figured out. His wife is worried about their son, Gordy, who has a drinking problem. Lou swears his family is his first priority. “I need this, Gail,” Lou says. “I need something.”
These kids don’t just have hardships at school. Lillette works at a diner with her mother when she’s not at school. Robbie’s mom is sick and in a home. Gwen’s dad, the football coach, comes home after some time away.
Lou picks Spring Awakening as the new musical. He immediately meets Maashous, the light guy. At the pep rally, Lillette and her mom walk in together. Something clearly went down between Lillette’s mom and Gwen’s dad. Gwen and her mom glare at Lillette’s mom. Gwen gets up and confronts Lillette. She tells Lillette that her dad had to move into a motel after her “slutty mother threw herself at him.” Lillette has no idea what she’s talking about.
Robbie raps at the pep rally and catches Lou’s eye. Afterwards, Lou holds auditions for Spring Awakening. He doesn’t get a great turnout at all. Ms. Wolfe shows up at auditions to help. She may not like how this all panned out, but she can’t let these kids go. Both Gwen and Lillette perform “Mama Who Bore Me” at their auditions. Lou wants Lillette and Robbie as Wendla and Melchoir, the leads. Gwen and Simon are demoted to meaty supporting roles. He wants to shake things up and adds that the leads to have real sexual tension. Tracy stresses to Lou that they do not cast football players. Lou is not going down without a fight. Robbie is failing academically. Lou offers a deal. If Robbie auditions for the show, he can play in the game.
Simon goes to Lou and asks why he was cast as the fifth lead. Hanschen has to kiss a boy, and Simon stresses that he’s not gay. He comes from a devout Catholic family. “I will not embarrass them,” Simon says about his parents. Lou gives Simon the confidence he needs. Lou knows that Hanschen is the right role for Simon.
Lillette confronts her mom point-blank about whether or not she had a fling with the football coach. Her mom denies it. Later, Lillette and Simon catch her mom and Coach Strickland kissing. When Lou gets home, Gail reveals that she found alcohol in Gordy’s room. Lou storms into Gordy’s room and grounds his son. He pleads with Gordy to meet them halfway.
Lillette and Robbie read together for the first time, and it initially doesn’t go well. However, something clicks. Their chemistry suddenly comes alive. Lou makes a schedule that works with Robbie’s practices. This way he can play football and be in the show. Maashous knows Lou needs more guys in the show, so he introduces Lou to Margaret Halliwell, who will soon be Michael Halliwell. After practice, Lou discovers Maashous living in the light room.
Robbie is unsure whether or not he can juggle football and the show. His mom reminds Robbie that life is short. Robbie shows back up at practice. Coach Strickland is not happy about Robbie doing the show. Robbie is his chance to win games. If the team loses, Coach Strickland is out. Lou isn’t going to back down. Coach Strickland tells him to stay away from Robbie. After practice, Lou talks to Maashous about his living situation. He doesn’t want to go back into foster care, so Lou brings Maashous home with him.
Simon breaks the news to his parents about his role. He wants his parents’ blessing. After reading the script, his parents want him to bow out. Simon refuses.
Lillette’s mom is waiting for her when she gets home. They get into a nasty fight. Her mom thinks she’s throwing away a good job for the musical. “You know what? I want more for myself. I want to go to college. I want to get out of this stupid town and have a bigger life,” Lillette says. “And that’s a huge mountain for me, so I need you to stop making every possible bad decision and help me. Be my mother.”
Lou gets backlash for Spring Awakening and the controversial topics it brings to light. The principal shuts it down and names Tracy the new director. Lou is out. The musical will be The Pirates of Penzance because they already have the costumes. Lou tells the troupe the bad news. “I had this vision that theater at Stanton High School could be different, and I believe it can be. I believe in all of you,” he tells them.
The show goes on with the troupe practicing The Pirates of Penzance. But this troupe will not be silenced. They burn the pirate costumes in a bonfire outside the school. Tracy and the troupe tell the principal and Coach Strickland that they want Lou back as director. Robbie threatens to quit the team if they don’t let him do the show. And with that, Spring Awakening is back on!
My take: I am obsessed with Rise. This show is full of characters who are relatable, raw, and real. This young cast is simply astounding, and I’m excited to watch them grow as these characters. I believe in this show, and you should, too.