We Are The Tigers at Theatre 80 St. Marks
by Mo Brady
In a world as fraught as ours, we consumers of culture always long to be entertained. And yet at the same time, we also want to connect with culture that feels authentic. Playing at Theater 80 St. Marks, the new off-Broadway musical We Are The Tigers strives to do both, but only with varying degrees of success.
The story of a high school cheerleading squad caught in a murder mystery is part romcom and part slasher thriller. It’s book, music and lyrics by Preston Max Allen are bright and cunning, creating nine distinct personalities among the squad’s members.
Both the plot and the show itself are led Lauren Zakrin as cheer captain Riley. A former Glinda in Wicked and Sherrie in Rock of Ages, she imbues her role with capable vocals and plenty of laughs. Zakrin is adept at mining humor from both the dialogue and circumstances, keeping the audience squarely on her side throughout the proceedings.
Zakrin is surrounded by a strong ensemble of women, including KPOP’s Cathy Ang as an incorrigible freshman and audience favorite Mimi Scardulla as a loveable mascot-turned-team member.
Fresh off her performance in Broadway’s Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Wonu Ogunfowora brings her signature gravitas to role of of Cairo, Riley’s frienemy and right-hand woman. Newsies veteran Kaitlyn Frank also shines as Annleigh, a high-strung Christian balancing her faith with her more carnal desires.
There’s much to like about the plucky production, but what I longed for in the show was a distinct point of view. It could be delicious camp or it could also be a genuine story of loss at a young age. In trying to do both, it doesn’t really end up doing either as well as it could.
The show could use a healthy trim to its first act, as ballads often feel longer than the moment’s emotions call for. For any qualms audiences may have with the slow first act, the second act moves briskly as it entertains, and the twist at the end was one that I genuinely didn’t see coming until the penultimate scene.
All in all, We Are The Tigers is a murderific romp. It’s easy to imagine it being adopted into the canon of shows beloved by young theatre artists. With a few smart edits, it might just get there.