REVIEW: NBC’S ‘RISE’ SOARS HIGHEST WHEN THE MUSIC PLAYS

On the heels of the smash-hit success of NBC’s tearjerker of a drama, This Is Us, Rise seems like a natural next step – another heart string-tugging drama, this time about high schoolers following their dreams and attempting to make it through pivotal years of their lives in one piece.

Comparisons to Glee are unavoidable as the Stanton High School theater department prepares to put on their version of “Spring Awakening.” The sarcastic wit that defined Glee is replaced here with something entirely more buttoned up, but endearing all the same. And the Friday Night Lights fingerprints are recognizable thanks to Jason Katims, who shepherded Lights and now Rise. In the Pennsylvania steel town whose glory days are long gone, football still has its place, but it is music that takes center stage, and music is the best part of Rise.

rise peter kramer nbc

Standing out is Auli’i Cravalho as Lilette Suarez, who takes the lead in “Spring Awakening” opposite quarterback Robbie Thorne, played by Damon J. Gillespie. Cravalho of Moana fame impresses, portraying Lilette, who is determined to make more of her life than her single mother, with heart. And once Cravalho begins to sing, with the emotion of a difficult life already lived, mixed with a sweet hopefulness, it is well worth the price of a ticket. And the natural spark between Lilette and Robbie will no doubt power the show.

Josh Radnor’s Lou Mazzuchelli, is another focal point of Rise, a character that is sure to polarize. Lou is a disillusioned English teacher who takes it upon himself to direct “Spring Awakenings,” qualifications be damned. Taxing on those around him, including Rosie Perez’s Tracey Wolfe who has kept the theater department together by a shoestring, Lou sees himself as a positive force, pushing the young hopefuls towards their dreams while expanding his own. One hopes that Lou will knock the chip off his shoulder long enough to really look at those around him and the effect he has on them.

Rise is a show built on family, community and the ties that bind, a show full of promise that shines brightest when the music plays.

‘RISE’ AIRS ON NBC, TUESDAYS, 9/8C.

PHOTO: PETER KRAMER/ NBC

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