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Review: RISE at JCC Centerstage Theatre

Review: RISE at JCC Centerstage Theatre

Hirshfield's score for "Rise" is superb, fluctuating from somber acoustic guitar ballads to catchy rock anthems evocative of The White Stripes.

One of the things I most admire about the JCC Centerstage Theatre is how collaborative of an organization it is. Rather than cycling through well-known plays and musicals like many of their similarly-sized and budgeted theatres do in an effort to keep attendance high, the JCC seems to be constantly partnering with new playwrights, launching local/regional/global premieres, and bringing local writers into the fold. Their current production of "Rise: A New Musical" is no different, having been penned by Joshua Daniel Hershfield and developed as a full-stage musical right here in Rochester.

"Rise" tells the story of a group of mostly female underground resistance fighters during the holocaust, led by Ruth (Tali Beckwith-Cohen) and Sarah (Addison Rando), who capitalizes on her gentile appearance to sneak in and out of the ghetto to bring information back to the resistance concerning troop movements and the existence of extermination camps. This harrowing story is set to a hard rock score, with the band-led by Hershfield-right on stage, giving the entire piece a modern edge reminiscent of "Jesus Christ Superstar" or "Rent".

Hershfield's score for "Rise" is superb, fluctuating from somber acoustic guitar ballads to catchy rock anthems evocative of The White Stripes. The edgy punk rock vibe of these songs is the perfect backdrop for a story about resistance and fighting back against the forces of evil, and the show bounces with ease between these heavier upbeat songs to the soaring vocal numbers of the cast, particularly Beckwith-Cohen, one of the show's standouts whose voice is astounding, especially for such a young performer.

The show's impressive choreography must also be noted. Anyone who has ever been involved with youth theatre knows how daunting a task it is to marshal 20+ young people in a confined space to jump, dance, fight, and move together in a seamless manner, but choreographer Mandi Lynn Griffith has proven to be equipped for the task, infusing "Rise" with big group dance numbers, modern interpretive movements, and even epic battle sequences (kudos to fight choreographer Lynn-Griffith and fight coach Elaina Bachman, for those as well).

Any of my fellow opening night attendees will attest that the evening was eventful, as live theatre often is. Immediately following the opening number one of the cast members fell ill, requiring the show to be halted for about 15 minutes while his understudy prepared himself backstage. Artistic Director Ralph Meranto came on stage and explained what was happening-that an understudy was preparing to step into one of the roles, and we may notice a performer with script in-hand, etc.-but neglected to mention which role was going to be featuring an understudy. The show resumed and before long I was engrossed in the story and quickly forgot about the whole debacle. Fast-forward to the curtain call and as the cast took their bows I thought to myself "wait, who was the understudy? I didn't see any scripts in hands! Nothing felt different!" It was then revealed that the role of David had featured ensemble member/understudy Jacob French, who gave a terrific performance that showed no signs whatsoever of unfamiliarity or clunkiness. Bravo Jacob, and bravo to all understudies and swings, who play critical roles in live theatre that almost always go unnoticed (aside from on nights like this!).

"Rise" is a daring and important new musical, and the JCC's production of it is beautifully staged and choreographed, and features the talents of numerous young Rochester performers. Its themes are, unfortunately, as relevant as ever, as our society and culture are once again battling fascist, racist, and anti-democratic forces. May we all take inspiration and courage from the women portrayed in "Rise", playing now until July 17th; for tickets and more information click here.

From This Author - Colin Fleming-Stumpf

Colin Fleming-Stumpf is a lover of all things theatre and performing arts. A native of Rochester, Colin has acted on stages across Western New York and is active in the local theatre community as a... (read more about this author)

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