A&E

EU Original Musical “Rise” Opens Thursday

“It takes an army,” I quip to myself as I ease open the double doors of the bustling auditorium. The directors, playwright, lyricist, and stage managers bumble around in preparation for the first run-through of “Rise,” an original musical, written and performed by members of the Eastern community. The actors writhe and yawn; they stretch like yogis and “monkey dance” across the stage while singing rising major arpeggios. There is a palpable anticipation behind it all, like the final preparations of a house right before an old friend comes to visit.

The show’s gregarious director, Professor Jenny Tibbels, calls a huddle, and the cohort gathers to pray. She asks the Lord to remind us of the vocational nature of art; in a world where unrest, injustice, and violence seem to reign, we must declare that love ultimately prevails.

As she prays, I recall the trailer for the musical, in which Professor Tibbels describes its vision. During a spiritual direction meeting, Tibbels’ mentor recounted the story of the road to Emmaus from Luke 24. The risen Christ walked alongside men on their journey to Emmaus, discussing the events of his own crucifixion with them. Mysteriously, they only recognized him as God upon the breaking of bread. “Rise” conveys a similar Eucharistic truth: Jesus walks with us in our ignorance. If we keep our eyes and hearts open, we may realize that he’s been there the entire journey, sustaining us with himself.

Rachel Sparks plays Rise, the estranged sister of Sophia (Casey McGinty). Sparks returns to her California hometown after her father’s death to sell his property, which is also Sophia’s home. A hard-hitting campaign manager, Rise sees the sale as nothing more than another business deal, while Sophia believes that no price tag justifies the loss of her home.

The story juxtaposes the busy individualism of New York City against the slow communal nature of the Californian country. As the sisters reconnect, they find that growth lies in the tension between upheaval and “plantedness.” The climactic song between them, “If You Only Knew,” is a heart-wrenching cry for understanding, which will resonate with anyone who has dealt with pain from those she loves most.

Despite its heavy moments, this musical will also dare to make you smile. Neighbors break out in dance as they cook dinner together, singing snappy Spanish tunes. Derek, the businessman involved in property sales, is witty and unbending, providing comic relief. Camden, the man that inspires affection for his kind heart and deep thoughts, helps a city girl regain her love for natural beauty.

Viewers will find the story both compelling and relatable through its themes of reconciliation, community, and home. Although the tendency with an original Christian musical could be over-simplifying darkness or complexity in favor of a “Jesus-y” answer, this show is a far cry from your middle school Christmas pageant. “Rise” will delight you because it is unyieldingly true.

It takes an army, so come and see “Rise,” (FREE with your Eastern ID) showing Thurs., Nov. 12 through Sat., Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. and Sun., Nov. 15 at 3 p.m. in McInnis Auditorium.

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