We’ve been so preoccupied in our talks about Rise, what with all the kissing and the football, that I’ve barely talked about something rather key in a musical TV show: How’s the music? Namely, how is Stanton High’s production of Spring Awakening coming together?
This is partially my fault, preferring to write from other angles about the show, but it’s also Rise’s for downplaying the musical for a bit. The show course-corrects right at the start of the seventh episode, “This Will God Willing Get Better,” by showing us bits and pieces of a full run of the show. Suffice it to say: It’s in bad shape! The kids are not all right! Indeed, the show’s a mess but not all of it. Some parts of it are in better condition than others.
Since we’re just two episodes away from the finale now, let’s take this opportunity to check in. Which songs are ready for opening night? Which need more work? Which haven’t we even seen yet? We’ll start at the top, with the song that ends the show.
1. “The Song of Purple Summer”
All right, yes, technically we haven’t seen the fully staged “Song of Purple Summer,” with the full ensemble during the finale. But we saw Gwen (Amy Forsyth) slay it alone in episode two, and as Ilse, she’s the lead vocalist on the song. As long as she does that, and everyone around her isn’t a mess, “Purple Summer” is guaranteed to be the highlight of Stanton High’s production.
2. “My Junk”
Complete with a fantastic guitarist accompanying them, the cast really figured this one out in episode five. Save maybe “Totally Fucked,” there’s no song that better captures the rebellious and rambunctious spirit of Spring Awakening’s score like “My Junk” does. A good one to have ready for the opening!
3. “Touch Me”
This longing-for-contact Act 1 number scored the end of this week’s episode. It sounds good! We’re humming right along, folks.
4. “Mama Who Bore Me”
We haven’t talked much about Lilette, the lead of both Rise and Spring Awakening (as played by Moana voice actress Auliʻi Cravalho). There’s a reason for that: She’s very competent, but her plots are fairly dull. Her romance with Robbie is kind of a snooze, and while we empathize that her mother Vanessa (Shirley Rumierk) is kind of a disaster, their disappointed-in-mom story feels deeply predictable.
All this to say: This “Mama Who Bore Me” is lovely, but pretty standard. Luckily, it’s a super easy number to stage. Next!
5. “The Guilty Ones”
For a song so thematically relevant in a show about the guilt imposed on young people for exploring their bodies, “The Guilty Ones” is truly forgettable. I’d forgotten they sang it on this show already, and I recap this show every week. Anyway, they sound good. Next!
6. “The Word of Your Body”
7. “The Word of Your Body (Reprise)”
These are both in decent shape, but the edge goes to the original rendition of this on-the-edge-of-sex duet over the reprise. The first is the more basic one in Spring Awakening, but unfortunately, the second relies on will-they-won’t-they couple Simon (Ted Sutherland) and Jeremy (Sean Grandillo) to get their shit together. Right now, they’re on the outs, after Simon tried and failed to have sex with ensemble member Annabelle (Shannon Purser). So the number’s in bad shape! That said, when it’s on fire as is seen early in this week’s episode it’s the best number in the show. Get it together, cute gay teens!
8. “I Believe”
So, we know the cast can sing this one. That said, we only know this because they sang it as they burned the props and costumes from The Pirates of Penzance in the pilot. Have they run it for real in a minute? It’s kind of a hard number to stage! It involves leads Melchior and Wendla hooking up on some barn hay while the ensemble sings around them. Maybe make this a priority, Mr. Mazu (Josh Radnor).
9. “The Dark I Know Well”
10. “All That’s Known”
We haven’t seen any of these, but they’re either easy to stage (“Whispering”), reliant on strong members of the cast (the Ilse-heavy “The Dark I Know Well”), or mostly filler (“All That’s Known,” which is primarily known as the song that gets reprised later). They’re probably fine.
12. “The Mirror-Blue Night”
On the one hand, I’m worried that we haven’t seen “The Mirror-Blue Night” yet. As it was staged in the most recent Broadway production of Spring Awakening, the penultimate Act 1 number can be somewhat visually complex. On the other, it mostly exists to allow for a transition onstage to “I Believe.” The song also doesn’t make a lick of sense. So, kind of a wash here.
13. “The Bitch of Living”
We get some good bits of “The Bitch of Living” this week, but we also see the cast fuck it up thanks to some technical errors. It’s not the easiest number from a technical perspective, so I’ll fully blame tech wizard Maashous (Rarmian Newton). He’s going through a lot, though, what with maybe having to move out of Mr. Mazu’s house because his birth mother has resurfaced. (There’s a lot of stuff we don’t talk about in this show.) We’ll give him a break.
14. “And Then There Were None”
15. “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind”
Okay, so from what we’ve seen, Michael (Ellie Desautels) is in really good shape as Moritz, Spring Awakening’s prickly third lead. My guess is he’ll nail both the angsty rebel yell “And Then There Were None” and the complex counterpoint duet “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” with Ilse. But! These are hard songs. Even the best performers would have trouble with them. I know a lot of the work on songs like these is likely happening off-screen, but I’d take at least one scene of Michael and Ilse trying to get their duet timing right over three more Robbie and Lilette scenes.
16. “Left Behind”
Okay, now this is a mess. We’ve seen “Left Behind,” but for some reason, it was being sung by Simon, not Robbie? And no one explained why? I mean, we can infer (Rise wanted the kid leaving for another school to sing a song about leaving), but it makes me very nervous especially considering how Melchior-focused the end of this list is.
17. “Totally Fucked”
Hey, Mr. Mazu? Wanna think about the fact that you probably can’t have high school kids singing “Totally Fucked” in the school musical? Or, on a meta level,that NBC certainly can’t air it on their network TV show anyway? Just checking! Kind of a big problem you should fix!
18. “Those You’ve Known”
And now we arrive at the reason for this check-in. Yes, Robbie Thorne apparently can’t do the emotional scene that precedes “Those You’ve Known” for the life of him. It doesn’t matter how good Michael and Lilette are if the table-setting moment is a flop. Robbie remains the one performer of this ensemble I’m not totally sold on and that unfortunately extends to the actor portraying him, Damon J. Gillespie. This is clearly being set up as a big moment for the rest of the season. Here’s hoping Robbie finally figures it out.
The next episode of Rise will air Tuesday, May 1, at 9 p.m. on NBC.