FIRST LOOK: Rise on NBC – TCA 2018

Rise stars Damon J. Gillespie, Auli’i Cravalho, Josh Radnor, and Rosie Perez joined Executive Producers Jason Katims, Jeffrey Seller, and Flody Suarez took to the stage for NBC’s winter press tour.

Rise follows a dedicated teacher and family man, Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor), as he takes over the school’s lackluster theater department, galvanizing not only the faculty and students but the entire working-class town.

EP Jason Katims discussed his decision to use Spring Awakening as the musical for the first season of the show, adding that he wants the show the school puts on each season to mirror the stories of the season, but that in the pilot he wanted the show to be provocative. Adding, “as much as it’s about high school theater, it’s also about the football team”.

Rosie Perez, who plays the high school’s former theater director, says she was only halfway through the pilot script when she called her manager and said she was in. She says one of the aspects of the show that stood out to her, and really inspired her to be part of the show is how it doesn’t shy away from portraying the politics that go on in the arts programs in schools. This is especially important to her as someone who runs a charity organization that helps bring the arts to public schools.

As for the great “teen” cast: Damon Gillespie, who was a dancer first before he started training in musical theater, is joined by Moana star Auli’i Cravalho discussed the struggles of taking on the show. Gillespie mentioned that this is his first TV series, and Cravalho, who is in her final year of high school, says the cast sang live, as well as in the studio.

Musical theater is important to the members of the cast, Perez spoke about how seeing The Wiz shaped her – seeing a person of color starring on stage, hearing someone who spoke like her. Josh Radner remembered playing the Emcee in a school performance of Cabaret, and the pivotal moment when he was told by a teacher not to quit acting. And Cravalho revealed that the performance of Spring Awakening in the show is her actual first high school musical performance, adding that she hadn’t seen Spring Awakening before being cast in it.

Rise premieres Tuesday, March 13th on NBC.

— Yael Tygiel