Rise recap: 'Bring Me Stanton'
With just three weeks left until opening night, Spring Awakening finally has a set, and it only took several petty thefts and one larger failed industrial heist to get there.
Mr. Mazzu and his Maashous-of-all-trades have perfected their presentation for Spring Awakening‘s set, having clearly spent weeks developing a real working model of Mazzu’s modern-vintage Stanton-Germany halluci-vision. Perhaps they should have used some of that time to show their idea to the actual set-builder (an adult named, I want to say, Roy?), who sees the model and reiterates that he not only doesn’t have the money for the build, but also no longer even has the time! “This isn’t Broadway, Lou,” says Maybe-Roy, adding his name to Rise’s running list of characters who exist only to have said nasty things about Lou’s show so they can be proven wrong in a season finale when the Rapture happens during act two.
However, for the first time in forever, things don’t actually go Mr. Mazzu’s way. He can bulldoze people and demolish hopes, but he cannot invent influence over time and money — a hard lesson for an egomaniac to learn! Frustrated, he seeks the advice of his wife Gail, repeating to her how badly he wants a big fancy set that reflects Stanton and the people who live in it. (He fails to fully think through the actual implications of using a musical about ignorant grown-ups to tell a town of adults, “We see you.”) Gail reminds him of how resourceful he used to be, and that’s all Mr. Mazzu needs to hear to make his first-ever compromise and rejigger the set to a stripped-down but still-evocative mirror of Stanton, accomplishing his vision without breaking the budget. If only someone had made a suggestion like that weeks ago! Elsewhere, Ms. Wolfe leaps off the top of an opera house.
Mazzu’s new set-design concept, then, is salvaged items. He directs the kids to sprawl out onto the streets, Oliver-style, to find what’s meaningful to them in Stanton and use it as set dressing. The results are not so much “salvaged” items as stolen, but hey, a compromise is a compromise. The kids grab all sorts of old crap from around town: chairs and street signs and trophies and traffic lights. Robbie and Lilette steal a jukebox for some reason (rude to Grease). Simon and Annabel steal a stained-glass window from a church (rude to Footloose).
Gwen, perhaps more interested in this criminal spree than anyone because of her new rebellious slant, focuses her efforts on an attempted robbery of the gargantuan sign at the Stanton steel mill. Not just any sign lying around the factory floor, but like, THE sign. A giant, soldered, steely marquee of metal that has no business being stolen. She recruits her cast mates (and criminal ingenue Gordy) for the theft, but it quickly peters out when the kids realize it’s a terrible and unrealistic plan that hardly factors in their non-gym abilities — and in any event, what was step two of Gwen’s plan going to be? To hope nobody noticed who stole this piece of property and then face the consequences three weeks later when the show opens to the public and everyone sees the set and the ensemble gets arrested mid-carpool to the cast party?
However, Gwen’s new recklessness comes in handy when the cops arrive at the factory, followed soon by Coach Strickland. He calls in a favor and gets Gwen off the hook, but since Gwen has been passive-aggressive to him the entire episode, it’s here that father and daughter finally have it out with each other over unsaid emotions regarding his divorce. Gwen shifts the blame from her mother to her father and storms off, and in the angsty dust, Coach uses the moment to realize that maybe bringing her the steel mill sign is the least he could do for cheating on her mom. God, what a concept. (To be fair, he’s also motivated by seeing Robbie’s renewed dedication to both the football team and drama, realizing that perhaps he needs to finally accept that; like the Broadway revival of Chicago, he is stuck with these people even if he disagrees with what they’re doing.)
The whole set-design adventure (which culminates in Coach’s delivery of the steel sign with some buddies, who also could have definitely just helped build Mazzu’s other set idea?) serves as a good bonding experience for, I guess, our three main couples:
Gwen has continued to find comfort in Gordy, who shares her burden of stressful fathers and good cheekbones. She finds Gordy at a crossroads: He’s actually trying to stay sober, recognizing that he can’t be the school-ditching vice for her that he once could have been. In another world, he’d be her bad-boy knight in shining H&M. In this world, he’s trying to stay clean, and when he does actually crack open a beer, he’s sad enough to realize he might actually have a problem. Before that epiphany arrives, he and Gwen share a nice moment and solidify themselves as the Actual Best Couple on Rise.
But the show, of course, still wants our favorite duo to be Robbie and Lilette, who have graduated from milkshake dates to full-on dry-hump make-out sessions on old jukeboxes in diners (Riverdale is shaking!). Their relationship doesn’t need much work this week, but individually, they each have new drama to deal with: Robbie’s demotion from QB1 to QB2, and Lilette’s struggle to be the sole breadwinner in her house after her mom beat up her boss. Lilette’s financial story is significantly more touching, and Auli’i Cravalho actually kills it in the scene when she tells Mazzu and Wolf that she can no longer attend afternoon rehearsal if she still wants to make rent. Warmly, the teachers accommodate her wishes — as does Ms. Suarez, who overcomes her reluctance to get a hard-labor job and musters up the humility to accept a housekeeping job at a motel. (The same one, in fact, where Coach is now living. Grand Hotel could never.)
And then there’s Simon and Annabel, two-thirds of a cringe-inducing love triangle (the third being Jeremy) that took a screeching turn sometime while Simon was off at St. Francis. At a certain point in the interim, Simon must have decided he wanted nothing to do with Jeremy, who has evidently taken this time to completely embrace his burgeoning sexuality (it’s been a busy few weeks). He asks Simon point-blank whether he feels the sexual tension between them, and suddenly Jeremy kisses him, in the middle of the parking lot, in the middle of the school, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the closet that Simon is still very much inside. (Even more shocking: Nobody saw them! From a TV standpoint, this is truly an exhilarating twist.) Simon, of course, freaks out and immediately asks Barb from Stranger Things if she wants to take things to the next level physically. He does all sorts of straight things to prepare, like kissing her on the cheek or shopping for condoms and scented candles or saying things like, “Annabel’s a great girl. I’m into her. Big time.” It’s super convincing, in the same way Wicked is convincing at making you think a real goat plays Doctor Dillamond. And poor Annabel! What of her?! She goes along with Simon’s plan, eager to awaken her own spring, and she earnestly joins Simon in his strange plot to bang at the steel mill (???).
For everyone’s sake, it is a damn miracle that the cops come before either of them do. Also, there’s a girl named Sasha in the show who tells Ms. Wolfe she’s pregnant, and I can say without any attempted Mariah Carey reference that I, truly, do not know her.