Rising or Falling?

April 1, 2018

Have you watched the new TV show, Rise? One of its stars is Richmond native Taylor Richardson so we locals are obligated to check it out, right?

 

I resisted for a while but eventually gave in. I’m a sucker for theater stories so I couldn’t really stay away for long. And honestly, it’s kind of horrible.

 

If you haven’t heard about Rise, it’s a new hour-long network drama about a high school theater program with topline stars Josh Radnor (the least appealing member of the How I Met Your Mother crew) and Rosie Perez. It’s kind of like a much more earnest and clumsier version of Glee. I do love all of the songs from SPRING AWAKENING -- those songs and the performances of some of the young cast are what kept me going through all three of the episodes so far.

 

But, oh my, does it come off to me weirdly tone-deaf about family dynamics and school politics and general human interaction. I am a true believer in the transformative power of art but this show’s breathless adoration of that power is too much even for me.

 

Still: I’ll keep watching. I want to see these kids sing and act and emote. And I’m holding out hope that eventually my eyes will stop rolling back in my head and start welling up with tears the way the show seems to want them to. Also: Taylor is pretty good in it.

 

My interest in Rise comes after a week where I listened to a podcast all about the groundbreaking importance of ANGELS IN AMERICA (where a big fancy oral history of that play was discussed) and another podcast I listened to touted its guest Lena Hall as being famous for playing both characters in HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. If you watch TV, you’ve likely been bombarded with ads for the Easter performance of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR starring John Legend. And the stage version of Harry Potter started in previews on Broadway, selling at 100% capacity.

 

The common perception for years has been that theater is dying, right? Certainly, every year fewer and fewer people are lured out of their cozy homes to see locally-produced shows. And yet, the fascination with theater on a macro level seems to grow unabated. What’s that about?

 

I mean, honestly: what gives? I’d really like to know what people think. How can theater’s popularity be simultaneously rising and falling? Are people in other places seeing something we’re not? What pitch convinced network execs that Rise was a good bet for a new show? Did HAMILTON truly spark a resurrection (sorry, couldn’t resist)? Am I simply a victim of confirmation bias where I tend to see the things that reinforce what I want to believe?

 

These are the questions I’ll be ruminating over this holiday weekend. Happy Easter and chag Pesach sameach!

 

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