Upon hearing about an opening, Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor), a teacher who wanted to make a difference, stepped in and volunteered, ultimately taking a job that Tracy (Rosie Perez) thought would be hers — she’s been doing it for 11 years. Not only did he take the job, he took over, scrapping her production of Grease and replacing it with a very controversial Spring Awakening. He also took Gwen (Amy Forsyth) out of the lead role, putting her in a supporting role and giving the lead to new face Lilette (Auli’I Cravalho), a student who’s never acted.
As if she needed another reason to hate Lilette, Gwen also discovered that Lilette’s mother was sleeping with her father, the football coach — and may be the reason for their marriage dissipating. For the male lead, Lou found Robbie Thorne (Damon J. Gillespie), a.k.a. QB 1. By “found,” I should say “forced,” as Robbie was failing a class — which meant he’d be ineligible to play. So Lou agreed he’d let him play if he auditioned.
Lilette and Robbie had more in common than met the eye. After school, before football, Robbie took care of his mother, who is sick and living in a facility. Meanwhile, Lilette worked as a diner waitress with her mother, struggling to pay the bills. Everyone on the show had things going on at home, including Lou, whose son Gordy was struggling with an alcohol problem. To make matters at home even more complicated, Lou brought home Maashous (Rarmian Newton), a foster kid he found living in the auditorium.
And then there was Simon (Ted Sutherland), who was used to playing the lead but instead would be playing Hanschen in Spring Awakening, a gay character who shares a kiss with a man on stage. At first, Simon protested, explaining he wasn’t gay but ultimately Lou convinced him he had the acting skills to play the powerful role. However, Simon’s parents were not at all OK with it. It’s likely they also wouldn’t be OK with Michael (Ellie Desautels) joining the show — an openly transgender, extremely talented teen boy.
However, Simon’s parents weren’t the only ones having issues with the content of Spring Awakening. After the principal read the show, he wasn’t OK with the controversial topics either. He replaced it with Pirates of Penzance, stating they couldn’t afford Grease and already had costumes for Pirates, plus Tracy had to take over. Also, he demanded that Robbie played football and did not participate. Luckily for Lou, no one else felt that way.
The episode ended with Tracy and the entire troupe — Robbie included — burning the Pirates props and costumes in the parking lot where they delivered a message to both the coach and the principal: they wanted Lou, they wanted Spring Awakening and Robbie wouldn’t be playing football if he couldn’t do the show.
Rise airs on NBC Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET.
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