Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Rise Star Ted Sutherland Breaks Down That Heartbreaking 'Left Behind' Scene

'Simon was going to enjoy this last moment'

Musical theater fans were probably a little perplexed while watching Simon sing his big, emotional Stanton High swan song during the most recent episode of Rise, NBC's heartfelt new high school musical drama. After all, "Left Behind" — one of the more sobering songs in Spring Awakening — is traditionally sung by a brokenhearted Melchior, not Hänschen. Though, it's just like Simon to dramatically quit the show and still show up to rehearsals the next day.

When it comes to lamenting over the "talks you never had, the Saturdays you never spent" in a complicated father-son relationship, Simon is the obvious choice. (And let's be real: Robbie doesn't even know what a falsetto is yet.) Still, Mr. Mazzuchelli's well-meaning machinations — first, in casting Simon as the sexually fluid character of Hänschen, and then, in making him sing "Left Behind," a tragic song that mirrors Simon's own dynamic with his devout, conservative father — are what led to Simon's transfer to St. Francis prep in the first place. Who knew the lyric "come cream away the bliss" would be such a hard sell for the Catholic church!

While some viewers might find Mr. Mazzu's choices to be extreme — he puts the "extra" in extracurricular — actor Ted Sutherland believes that Mazzuchelli's "new, exciting" vision will "ultimately benefit" Simon in the long run. "He's pushing for positive change in these kids' lives," he told MTV News. "It may not seem like the right move, but it is."


Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor) and Simon (Sutherland) talk between classes

"That's what is so exciting about him," he added. "In the arts, you want to be part of something radical, something that's going to upset people and inspire people."

For Simon, however, Spring Awakening is more than artistic provocation; it's the spark that lit a flame inside him — one he doesn't quite know how to put out. Theater has always been his respite from the outside world, his sanctuary. "It's the place where he can feel free to express himself when maybe he can't express whatever it is that he needs to," Sutherland said. He expresses these confusing feelings through characters like Hänschen (and by proxy, through his scene partner, Jeremy) and songs like "Left Behind."

And as far as goodbyes go, "Left Behind" is absolutely heartbreaking. It's even more brutal for Simon, who can relate to feeling left behind in leaving his Stanton High Drama troupe just when it's starting to feel like family. "That scene was a tough one," Sutherland recalled. "Allowing yourself to get into that vulnerability while you're singing is a tough thing to do. I just wanted to make sure that Simon was going to enjoy this last moment. He was going to express what was on his mind, and the song does such a fantastic job in expressing what's going on within him."

Although Simon's transfer may not be permanent — after all, his mother (played by theater legend Stephanie J. Block) did seem convinced by Mr. Mazzu's "I believe in the kids I teach" speech — that doesn't mean his dad will come around to the idea of him playing a character who kisses another boy anytime soon. But at least Simon has his mom on his side.


Stephen Plunkett as Robert Saunders, Sutherland as Simon Saunders, and Block as Patricia Saunders in Rise

"The relationship between Simon and his mom has always been a closer one," he said. "His mom seems to understand him a little bit better and understand things about Simon that maybe Simon doesn't yet understand. Where his father can be a bit cold, his mother is very warm and supportive."

Mrs. Saunders's internal struggle between her faith and her love for her son will ultimately drive a wedge between her and her husband. Expect Simon's parents to "clash" in future episodes when it comes to their son's involvement in the controversial fall production and his burgeoning sexuality.

As for Sutherland, he's still trying wrap his head around the fact that he has a song on iTunes. "It's so weird," he said. "That's not something I ever expected to happen, that I'd have a song that could be played somewhere that wasn't of my own making."