By Amy Sorter
The adage about New York is that, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. This is the case with North Texas native Preston Max Allen. A decade ago, Allen performed onstage and attended classes at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. These days, he is deeply involved with New York’s theater and musical theater scene as a writer.
Allen is the son of Congregation Beth Shalom Cantor Sheri Allen and Richard Allen, Texas Christian University’s Professor of Film, Television and Digital Media. He is the brother of Jeremy and Emily. Allen acknowledged he hasn’t yet “made it” in the Big Apple. He is, however, on his way, riding on the back of his eight-year-old creation, a musical dubbed “We are the Tigers.”
The thought process
Allen’s show opened in February 2019 at Theater 80, an off-Broadway house in New York City, and follows the Tigers, a bottom-of-the-barrel cheerleading squad. The team meets for its annual sleepover at the cheer captain’s house to plan strategy. Things take a bloody turn when some of the cheerleaders are stabbed to death by an unknown assailant. The remaining girls must figure out who is the knife-wielding slasher.
Allen wasn’t a cheerleader while making his way through middle school and high school at Fort Worth Academy, Arlington Heights High School and the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. He did, however, have a front-row seat to the ups and downs that young women undergo during their teen years.
Allen also had a front-row seat to something else. While the majority of musical theater actors in high school and college are women, many musical theater productions are light on strong roles for females. “I was cast in ‘She Loves Me,’” Allen recalled. “There were a lot of talented young women in this program who didn’t get cast, and that’s when it really hit me.” He decided that, if he was ever to write a full-length musical, it would be one that offered a plethora of roles for young women.
Speaking of young women, Allen is a die-hard fan of the television show, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Allen, in fact, is a die-hard fan of the horror genre, in general. So, a wish to create a viable, female-centric musical, combined with an homage to blood-and-guts slashers shows, led Allen to create his first drafts of “Tiger.”
Reading . . . after reading . . . after reading
The process of bringing a play or musical to the stage is long and arduous; “Tiger’s” path was no exception. Allen wrote and workshopped the show while attending Columbia College in Chicago. Following his graduation, “I quickly moved to New York,” Allen said. The purpose of that relocation was to continue working on “Tiger” with Raleigh Taylor, a high-school friend who was already settled in the Big Apple.
Allen would work on “Tiger” on and off over the next few years, with help and support from the Musical Theatre Factory (an organization dedicated to developing new theatrical works). “We’d do a reading once a year, I’d listen to the comments, make changes, then put it away until next year,” he said. While “Tiger” rested, Allen wrote and staged other musicals, including “Never Better,” “Agent 355” (with Jessica Kahkoska), “Carrie 2: The Rage, An Unauthorized Musical Parody” and “Bradical and The Pink Socks.”
Then, “Tiger” sharpened its claws in 2015. Allen met well-known theater and musical director Michael Bello, who liked the work. A year later, the show opened at the Hudson Backstage in Santa Monica, California, with Bello as director. “After the Los Angeles production, I put it to rest,” Allen said. “Then we had one more reading in 2017, to clean up the script.”
Fully expecting “Tiger” to snooze for another year, Allen ended up reworking it for a benefit performance. “We did a version that involved 24 women and a couple of men, who had been in earlier versions of the show,” Allen said. The right people were in the audience, they wanted to produce the show at Theater 80 and the rest, as they say, is history. Partnering with Bello and music supervisor Patrick Sulken, “we began discussions in September and October, began pre-production in November, and we opened in February,” Allen said.
Hear him roar
While actors sing, dance and are murdered in “Tiger,” Allen continues working on other projects. One show, “Never Better,” is what Allen dubs a “fairly serious musical about a college student who is diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Another show focuses on an all-female punk rock musical, concerning a lady spy during the American Revolution. “That one will be really fun,” Allen said.
The Theater 80 performance of “Tigers” closes April 1, though the show has yet to face a final curtain call. Allen is overseeing a “Tigers” soundtrack recording; the album is slated for an April 26 release. Other theater companies are interested in the property — “once we put the script back together again,” Allen said, with a laugh. Ultimately his dream is to see the piece staged in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Allen also indicated the show was written to be performed by high school and college theater programs. “The whole show isn’t murder, murder, murder,” Allen observed. “It involves these women, who they are, what they’re experiencing; they go through pretty normal and honest situations.”
With an overnight success that was eight years in the making, Allen still said there is a long road ahead before he’s “made it,” to get back to the New York adage. Long-lived musicals, he explained, tend to be from the pen of writers who have been produced before. “It’s a unique and challenging experience to be involved in an original musical, when I’m an unknown writer,” he said.