It's the day of the show, y'all!
NBC's highly-anticipated drama about drama, Rise, finally premieres Tuesday after the season finale of This Is Us. The show follows members of a high school drama troupe as they prepare to put on the controversial musical Spring Awakening, under the tutelage of an inexperienced yet passionate teacher (Josh Radnor) who's basically stolen the department out from under its longtime chair (Rosie Perez).
With the exception of Radnor and Perez, the other cast members of Rise are mostly fresh faces and will likely be unknown to most viewers. Here, we invite you to meet the major players of the show and get the scoop on what's in store for their characters this season:
Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor)
Who he is: An English teacher turned head of the drama department.
What you need to know: Despite having no qualifications whatsoever, "Mr. Mazzu" is given the job so that he can replace existing department head Tracey Wolfe. "The principal installs Lou because he feels like he'll be pliable and acquiescent, and he'll be able to maybe even retire the program," Radnor says. "He puts him in not because he has great faith in him." At home, Lou has a wife and three children.
Where you've seen him before: Radnor starred as Ted Mosby on all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother.
Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez)
Who she is: The ousted head of the drama department who stays on as an advisor to Lou.
What you need to know: The tension between Lou and Tracey over Lou's abrupt takeover of the drama department will simmer throughout the season until it finally boils over. "If Tracy was a man, would the principal feel so in his right to make that decision so easily?" Perez wonders. "[Tracey] has to deal with her resentment of being passed over, with the anger, the tinge of sexism. But the sexism is not coming from Lou. The sexism is coming from Mr. Ward, the principal. And so, it's difficult for her to really hate Lou, even though she wants to. ... She's combative with him, but slowly sees that, whoa, this guy has something. And the respect is hard to deal with, in that she has to admit to herself that she respects him on a certain level, even though he doesn't know his way yet."
Where you've seen her before: Perez's extensive film and television resume includes Do the Right Thing, White Men Can't Jump and Lipstick Jungle. Recently, she's starred on Bounty Hunters and Search Party.
Simon Saunders (Ted Sutherland)
Who he is: The standout star of the drama department at Stanton High
What you need to know: Simon is outraged when he's passed over for the male lead in Spring Awakening — and even more so when Lou casts him as Hanschen, a character who's gay. Coming from a conservative Christian family, Simon worries that his parents will find the material objectionable. "He's 16. He doesn't have anything figured out. He doesn't [know] anything concrete about his sexuality," Sutherland says. "Family's very, very important to Simon. ... He has that sense of community with them and he doesn't want to disappoint them. He doesn't want to upset that relationship."
Lilette Suarez (Auli'i Cravalho)
Who she is: Simon's best friend and a rising star at Stanton who gets cast as Wendla, the lead in Spring Awakening
What you need to know: Lilette and her single mother, Vanessa, both work shifts at the local diner in order to make ends meet. At school, she becomes the nemesis of Gwen Strickland, both for "stealing" the role Gwen wanted for herself in Spring Awakening, and because Vanessa is having an affair with Gwen's father, the school's football coach.
Where you've seen her before: You probably haven't seen Cravalho before, but you might have heard her: She voice the title character in Disney's animated film Moana.
Robbie Thorne (Damon J. Gillespie)
Who he is: The school's starting quarterback, whom Lou forces to audition for the show in exchange for not failing him.
What you need to know: We all know where this storyline is going: The jock discovers a love for musical theater. But Robbie's arc transcends run-of-the-mill plot developments thanks in part to his relationship with his mother, who suffers from ALS. "I don't really see African-Americans in this [type of storyline]," Gillespie notes. "That's one way it's kind of different."
Where you've seen him before: Gillespie was a member of a boy band on Inside Amy Schumer.
Gwen Strickland (Amy Forsyth)
Who she is: The (ice) queen of Stanton High and the daughter of the school's football coach
What you need to know: As mentioned previously, Gwen sets her sights on her co-star Lilette from the get-go, believing that Lilette's "slutty mom" Vanessa caused Gwen's parents to separate after "throwing herself" at Gwen's father. "[Gwen] is described as the queen bee at the beginning of this show, and I'm not saying that she isn't by the end, but by the end of Episode 1 - especially by the end of Episode 2 - she gets knocked down a lot," Forsyth says. "Thank god."
Gordy Mazzuchelli (Casey Johnson)
Who he is: The eldest child of Lou and his wife Gail (Marley Shelton)
What you need to know: The sullen son of Mr. Mazzuchelli also plays on the school's football team. By the end of the first episode, Gordy's parents are beginning to suspect that their son has a drinking problem.
Where you've seen him before: Johnson played Billy Offal on GLOW.
Maashous Evers (Rarmian Newton)
Who he is: The go-to lighting designer for Stanton Drama
What you need to know: In the pilot, we find out that Maashous has been in and out of the foster care system for most of his adolescence, and has now resorted to sleeping in the school's auditorium.
Where you've seen him before: Newton played Billy Elliott in a stage production in his native Australia, and also starred on the short-lived ABC drama The Family.
Michael Hallowell (Ellie Desautels)
Who he is: A student who has the voice of an angel and is transitioning from Margaret to Michael
What you need to know: With the show needing more guys, Michael is recruited by Lou on a tip from Maashous.
Where you've seen them before: Michael is portrayed by non-binary actor Ellie Desautels. This is their first major role.
Sam Strickland (Joe Tippett)
Who he is: Stanton High's football coach
What you need to know: Coach Strickland's got a lot going on — both at home, where he's estranged from his wife after having an affair with Vanessa Suarez, and at school, where he's trying to prevent Mr. Mazzu from poaching his best player (Robbie) into the drama department.
Where you've seen him before: Tippett's numerous theatre credits include being a member of the original cast of Waitress. He's also made appearances on shows including The Blacklist, Chicago Justice, Bull and Boardwalk Empire.
Annabelle (Shannon Purser)
Who she is: A member of the drama department who lands one of the more minor roles in Spring Awakening
What you need to know: Surname-less Annabelle is barely seen in the pilot, but her character plays a more prominent role as the season progresses and she develops a (wince-worthy) relationship with Simon. "He's, like, the cool guy in the theater. He's the best performer, best singer. He's always the lead," Purser explains of her character's crush. "So, Annabelle's kind of thrilled and head over heels when he seems to be feeling the same way. But obviously there are many twists and turns. ... She's a little oblivious."
Vanessa Suarez (Shirley Rumierk)
Who she is: Lilette's mother
What you need to know: Lilette and Vanessa's household consists of just the two of them, but sometimes it's difficult to tell which one is the mother and which one's the child. "What I love about Vanessa is that she's always teetering on the boundary of everything. She's an adult, but not fully, because she's younger than the other adults. But she's not a kid either. She's a mom, but then she's single. So she's always on this balance," Rumierk says. "And that can seem as a threat in a small town, because it's like, well, we can't define you in a box and put you. We're going to try to do it as best we can. And she's unapologetic. That's what I love about her. She is who she is, take it or leave it. she has a big appetite for life. She has her dreams. She has her desires. But then she also knows that sometimes she needs to put that aside, because her daughter's her priority." In the pilot, Lilette discovers that her mother's relationship with Coach Strickland may not be as over as Vanessa has told her it is.
Sasha Foley (Erin Kommor)
Who she is: A punky member of the Spring Awakening cast who auditions by performing Patti Smith's "Horses"
What you need to know: Sasha doesn't play a major role in Spring Awakening until later on in the season, but then has a significant arc that parallels one of the twists in the show-within-a-show. (In fact, the show's mishandling of her character and the resultant "Who's that?" reaction viewers will inevitably have when Sasha drops a bombshell at the midway point is one if it's biggest flaws.) Sasha is also the best friend of Michael.
Where you've seen her before: This is Kommor's first major role.
Jeremy Middle (Sean Grandillo)
Who he is: A veteran of Stanton drama and Simon's scene partner in Spring Awakening
What you need to know: Let's just say Jeremy is a lot more comfortable with the kissing scene he and Simon have to share than Simon is.
Rise premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on NBC.