“Eight vulnerable girls alone in a house. Sounds like the start of every teen horror movie,” says one of the characters in the new teen horror movie inspired musical,We Are the Tigers, with book, music and lyrics by Preston Max Allen, now playing at Theater 80 St. Marks in the East Village. And so it does. While endangered young women being murdered by an unidentified assailant may not sound like something to sing about, Mr. Allen has nonetheless created an entertaining and ambitious marriage of two very disparate genres, that otherwise may seem as impossible to get into bed together as Donald Trump and Melania.
The Tigers are a high school cheerleading team… admittedly “the worst team ever”… that desperately needs to get its act together after a season-ending fiasco the previous year, in which one of the team, Chess (dulcet toned Celeste Rose), a failed Olympic hopeful, dropped her teammate Farrah (very amusing when drunk, Zoe Jensen) while high on pills.
So before the start of the new school year, the uber-perky and endlessly optimistic team captain, Riley (irresistibly touching and funny for all the right reasons, Lauren Zakrin) invites the team to the basement of her home for a sleepover party – slash (pardon the expression) – practice session.
The other girls on the team include Mattie, a newcomer who manages to keep her chin up even when dumped upon, played with girlish innocence by Cathy Ang. Jenny Rose Baker is the tough and smart Kate who claims not to be a lesbian, but I’d love her even if she were. Wonu Ogunfowora is Riley’s longtime friend, Cairo, who challenges her BFF with strength, brains, and a whole lot of high energy performing chops. Eva is a Latina cheerleading talent from an opposing but disadvantaged school, who is rocked out by Sydna Parrawith an explosion of physical and vocal talent. Reese, the overweight girl relegated to the role of team mascot who dreams of getting her chance on the team, is engagingly played by warm and funny Mimi Scardulla. Finally, Clark, the one boy who sneaks into the sleepover to be near his religiously devout and trying-hard-to-stay-celebate girlfriend, Annleigh (the understated yet very funny Kaitlyn Frank) is perfectly played by charismatic Louis Griffin. Their song about not wanting to have sex when, of course, they really do, is a comic highlight of the show.
Those short acknowledgements don’t begin to adequately sing the praises of this exceptionally talented group of performers. Each one of them is smart, funny, and passionate, with great pipes and lots of heart. Credit casting director Kate Lumpkin for finding so many highly qualified performers so perfect for each of these roles.
Because they spend so much time fighting and complaining, the girls never get around to practicing, as the mysterious killer starts picking them off. As part of the fun is seeing who gets it and how, I’m not going to give any spoilers. That makes it hard to describe any more of the plot. But that’s almost immaterial, since plotting is not really Mr. Allen’s strong point.
The murders all occur very early, and the threat of more murders gets dropped along with potential story tension at the end of the first act. The girls all agree, collectively, to a scheme to protect themselves from blame, which inexplicably ignores that there’s a real murderer loose. The immoral nature of their scheme should weigh heavily on their minds at the start of the second act. But it doesn’t even get discussed until ten minutes into it. So there is plenty of room for improvement in story construction. Luckily for Mr. Allen, his story hangs together just enough to let the other production elements carry his show.
The music is catchy, emotion-packed pop/rock, with lyrics that vary in quality but which are, in general, smart and tight. The songs mine the inner insecurities and interpersonal conflicts of the teammates, with frequent bits of unexpected humor. The crack 4 piece band under the musical direction of Geraldine Anello powers through the songs beautifully. The precise music supervision and tasty arrangements by Patrick Sulken, with orchestrations by Matt Aument, elevate the songwriting to the highest level of presentation.
Every aspect of design wraps the outstanding performances into the perfect theatrical environment. The superlative sound design by Josh Liebert, with barking dogs, creaking doors, and eerie musical noises, keeps us on the edge of our seats, while maintaining a fine balance of band and vocals throughout. The handsome interior set by Ann Beyersdorfer is expertly lit by Jamie Roderick, whose kinetic lighting gives the musical numbers the impact of a rock concert. The costumes by Heather Carey all work unobtrusively with their characters. The choreography by Katherine Roarty is top notch, and perfectly blended with artful, often amusing stage violence by Matt Franta and Brandon Pugmire. All of this is managed with a firm and insightful artistic hand by Michael Bello, who clearly knows how to shape a new musical into an airtight presentation.
This little production feels way bigger than it is by virtue of such wall–to-wall production quality. Add in the rock solid, powerfully sung, beautifully acted performances by every member of this tight knit ensemble, and you get a killer evening of musical theater.
We Are the Tigers:Theatre 80 St. Marks, Mondays at 7PM, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8PM. Matinees are on Saturday at 3PM and Sundays at 2PM