We Are the Tigers, which punningly describes itself as “a killer new musical,” is a whodunit that explores the trajectory of a group of teenage girls who couldn’t be more different. The girls are part of a cheerleading team called the Tigers, but are dogged by an epic stumble in the last game which went viral and left them the laughingstock of their high school community. This year, they’re determined to make a comeback. In the course of an evening, two cheerleaders are bumped off and another set up, but can the motive really be just to restore their reputation?
Riley (Lauren Zakrin), the proud captain of the team, hosts a sleepover so the cheerleaders can get to know one another. Along with the team members, there are some new recruits. The no-nonsense Riley collects their cellphones and reads the rules. Cairo (Wonu Ogunfowora), her best friend, acts as a social compass. “Aren’t sleepovers supposed to be fun?” someone asks. Cairo tries to put the girls at ease but then proves to be colder and more calculating than she initially seems. Cairo’s patience is finally tried by Riley’s need for control. In “Wallflower,” she sings, “Who has your back every time you crack? … you would be nothing, you are nothing, without me.”
A catchy score by Preston Max Allen (music and lyrics) captures the angst-ridden and real-life problems of teen life. Chess (Celeste Rose), a senior who’s going off to college soon, had an injury that left her addicted to pain medication. In “Before the Breakdown,” Chess sings: “you turn to poison pills so you can numb yourself, the refill never comes too soon, and everyone will tell you you’re better, better, better.” The song conjures up regret and predicts the potential troubles with addiction in the future. Farrah (Zoe Jensen) also has her problems when she shows up with a water bottle full of booze.
Michael Bello’s direction provides a light touch and helps move the story along. In one scene, Annleigh (played with a bouncy fervor by Kaitlyn Frank) who is deeply religious also wants to have sex with her boyfriend Clark (Louis Griffin). In “Forever,” Clark and Annleigh sing: “Oh, it’s one night in a lifetime, but it’s been a lifetime, waiting for the right time, for a nighttime, like right now.” The choreography by Katherine Roarty nicely shows the tension between lust and restraint, and Annleigh and Clark end with a kiss—a Hershey’s kiss.
Full sets are unusual in small playhouses for reasons of size, but even Broadway has moved towards simple and pared down — think Sam Gold’s The Glass Menagerie. Ann Beyersdorfer’s compact set stands out in the way it creates the whole world of Riley’s house in great detail. As things get creepier and creepier for the girls, Josh Liebert’s sound and Jamie Roderick’s lighting contribute to a spookiness when events go awry.
At times the characters are drawn a little too thinly, but Reese (the effervescent Mimi Scardulla) who is shunted to the bottom of the social hierarchy to act as mascot and gopher because she doesn’t fit the stereotypical body type of a cheerleader becomes the underdog of the story. It turns out she is a much more talented dancer than the others. Her character also offers the biggest challenge to the teen dynamics by breaking the expected mold, and in the end, she’s the cheerleader worth cheering for.
Midnight Theatricals production of We Are the Tigers is playing at Theater 80 St. Marks (80 St Marks Pl) runs through April 17. Evening performances are at 7 p.m. Mondays and 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; matinees are at 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For information and tickets, call (212) 388-0388 or visit tigersmusical.com.