Actor and singer Tiago Barbosa, known for his remarkable performance as Simba in the first Brazilian production of “The Lion King”, celebrates a successful career that completes a decade. His trajectory, full of conquests and crowns both in Brazil and in Europe, made him a reference as a Brazilian artist on the international scene. After shining as a protagonist in the skin of Lola, the famous drag queen of “Kinky Boots” in Madrid, Tiago returns to Brazil to star in a special project, playing one of his idols, Milton Nascimento, in the musical “Clube da Esquina – Os Sonhos Não They grow old”, and now he is preparing for the double challenge of playing twins in “Iron – The Man in the Iron Mask”, a promising production that arrives at 033 Rooftop at Teatro Santander.
His career took off when American director Julie Taymor recognized Tiago Barbosa’s talent and chose him as the unforgettable Simba of musical theater. Since then, the actor has not stopped adding successes in his artistic journey. In Spanish lands, he took the crown again as Simba, for another five years, and later surprised the public with his exuberant performance as Lola, earning important nominations in local awards and being recognized for his excellence as a Brazilian artist in Europe. The King of Spain, Filipe VI, even invited him to lunch at the palace among other distinguished personalities, such as President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Upon returning to Brazil, Tiago immersed himself in the interpretation of the legendary singer and composer Milton Nascimento, in a musical that celebrated the 80-year career of the musician and the five decades of success of the Clube da Esquina movement. This experience reconnected him with his roots and provided new opportunities, such as walking for stylist João Pimenta at SPFW. Now, the actor is preparing for the next challenge: to live two twin characters in “Iron – The Man in the Iron Mask”, an unprecedented and original musical that promises an immersive experience to the public.
Tiago Barbosa is a versatile and dedicated artist, whose journey in musical theater delights audiences of all ages and wins the hearts of great names in Brazilian culture, such as Fernanda Montenegro, Caetano Veloso and Tony Ramos. His talent and delivery to the characters show that he is ready to face new challenges and continue to shine on stage and in the lives of spectators. Anticipation is high to see the actor’s brilliant performance as twins in “Iron”, and audiences can prepare for an unforgettable and emotional theatrical experience.
How was your experience playing Simba in the first Brazilian production of “The Lion King” and receiving praise from director Julie Taymor?
Simba really in my life was a great gift, the beginning of something very beautiful. At the time, I didn’t know, I had no idea of the greatness of The Lion King, and thank God I didn’t have that notion, because it helped me to guard my heart and not be afraid of what was to come. It was really a job for which I have a lot of affection, it helped me a lot. Simba taught me a lot, he showed me a path of possibilities that I would never have imagined having in my life. Julie, the little time I had with her during the entire rehearsal period was a very pivotal moment. She taught me the simplicity of B&B, and that was really good for me.
Musical theater has been an important part of her career. How has this experience shaped your artistic path?
Today, fundamentally, my career is formed within musical theater, thank God. Within this market, I had the opportunity to give life to great characters and break with some paradigms, being a pioneer in many others. Breaking the paradigm of being a Black Prince in a work like Cinderella was a huge milestone for me, and now I’m questioning why I couldn’t also be King Louis XIV Black in an adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask. This has been very rewarding and I am grateful to have directors and producers who know my work, trust my delivery and invite me to projects that allow for this diversity.
I feel very proud and happy to be able to explore different perspectives in my career. The opportunity to play a Prince in one play and then dive into another completely different character is an enriching experience. I have been able to break away from stereotypes and pursue a very diversified career within this scenario, which is very rewarding. I am grateful for every opportunity I have to challenge expectations and contribute to the evolution of musical theatre.
You stood out as the first black prince in every production of “Cinderella – The Musical”. What was it like to play this character and what was the importance of this representativeness?
For me, my first big challenge was with the show Toffee. I have a special affection for this work, which came about in partnership with the company and with Renata Borges and Ulisses Cruz. When I met Ulisses and he offered me this gift, it was actually a gift that was also a challenge. It was the first time in Brazil that a black man starred in a work that originally had predominantly white characters. It wasn’t easy, I think all pioneering is like that, it’s never easy, even when you have production and a team supporting it.
But for me, it was fundamental, as it allowed me to establish myself as a man, a citizen and a social being. I understood that I was giving voice to several other black people, young people, teenagers and children who needed a reference just as I needed when I was a child. When looking at television, I was looking for a reference that could inspire and feed my dreams. I believe that I became fuel for many young people, whether they are peripheral or not, so that they see a new possibility, a chance to be who they want to be.
This imagination must be nurtured in every child so that they can be what they want to be, regardless of skin tone or color. It is important that they see themselves represented and believe that they can be princes, princesses or anything they want to be. That’s the power of representation, and I’m very proud to be a part of it and to inspire others to dream and believe in their abilities.
After acting in Europe, including playing Lola in “Kinky Boots”, you decided to return to Brazil. What motivated you to return and how was that transition?
It wasn’t such a purely dictated choice. I already had other works commissioned in Spain that, in fact, were not of my artistic interest at that time. So, when the proposal came to return to Brazil and do “Clube da Esquina”, everything culminated in a very beautiful way. For the first time in years I felt like taking away my Spanish nationality and getting my passport.
Denis Carvalho’s invitation, along with Vanessa Veiga, to bring Milton to life in the theater seemed to be an ideal moment. After making “King Boot”, which was a success in Spain, I decided to return to my country, where I hadn’t been on stage for seven years, especially in São Paulo, to do work that could be seen in that scenario. And then, returning to Spain, where I chose to live, to be inserted again in this Brazilian niche.
This is my country, my language, so it’s part of me, it’s part of that expression. It was a decision that allowed me to return to my origins, to my culture, and at the same time continue my artistic career in Spain, where I also built a significant part of my life. I believe that everything happened in a special way, like a cycle closing and another opening, allowing me to be present in two important parts of my journey as an artist.
Playing Milton Nascimento in the musical “Clube da Esquina – Os Sonhos Não Envelhecem” was a special project for you. What was it like honoring this idol and celebrating his career?
It was a big challenge, considering that it had been seven years since I had participated in a project in Brazil. At that time, I decided to dedicate myself even more to Spanish, moving away from the Portuguese language a little, as my commitment and exposure in Spain were increasing. He participated in many interviews, television programs and had contact with important people from the Spanish political and cultural scene. Returning to Brazil and getting involved in this new project meant re-studying, getting closer to the Portuguese language, something I hadn’t done for a long time. It was a process that was not that simple.
After six years doing Milton Nascimento on stage, when he was saying goodbye to the Brazilian music scene at the age of 80, the responsibility was enormous. He felt the weight of that crown and I even had health problems, such as hair loss and stomach aches, due to the weight of that responsibility. The Brazilian public is very fond of this artist, a true deity, and bringing him to life on stage was an honor and an indescribable emotion. Singing songs like “Travessia” and “Caçador de Mim” was special, as the audience reacted with nostalgia and emotion, remembering the importance that Milton had and still has in Brazilian popular music. It was a wonderful and moving experience, and it would be a spectacle I would love to see return one day.
You are now preparing to play two different characters in “Iron – The Man in the Iron Mask”. How is the challenge of bringing these twins to life and what is the expectation for the public?
Playing Jaime in the theater has been a great opportunity for me. It’s the first time I play this character, and this responsibility was entrusted to me by my director, Ulisses Cruz, in the midst of all this sane madness of the creative process. I can’t deny that it’s been an intense study, I’m reading a lot and looking for references to give life to each of these characters in a different way. From the way of walking, talking, singing and touching people, literally speaking, as it is an immersive and interactive show.
It is a very big challenge to leave the universe of another show and, at the same time, rehearse and give life to two completely different characters within this innovative proposal. I cannot say that it is anything less than a process of a lot of reading, patience and breathing, in order to be able to give myself completely and not get lost in this journey. And when I get lost, understand that it’s also part of the path, that making mistakes is a learning opportunity.
I am open to my co-stars, to my director and to this work itself. This trip has been very enjoyable, full of learning above all. Every day, I immerse myself in a lot of reading and absorbing knowledge. I am committed to dedicating myself fully to this work and it is a journey of much learning, above all else.
In addition to theater, you also had experiences in the fashion world, walking for stylist João Pimenta at SPFW. How was that experience and how does fashion connect with your artistic career?
Showing at São Paulo Fashion Week was a dream come true for me, thanks to João Pimenta and Vera Holtz, along with the mentorship of lawyer Andréa Frances. I’ve always been a visionary person and obsessed with my work, and I really wanted to access the world of fashion. Each time São Paulo Fashion Week approached, my excitement grew even more.
When Vera Holtz suggested that I might walk the runway, she put me in touch with João Pimenta. Funnily enough, I had already texted him about five years ago. And when we finally met, it was like a meeting of souls, it was a wonderful experience.
The fashion environment is totally different, a unique scenario, with its own logistics and a very specific body of work. It was very interesting to access this world and see up close the routine and preparation of the models for the fashion show. Often, we think that the parade lasts only a few seconds, but in fact, there is preparation that begins much earlier and is as serious and important as the routine of a musical theater actor. Both are stage athletes, and their work is rigorous.
I loved this experience at São Paulo Fashion Week and I could see how incredible and challenging the world of fashion is. It was a unique and special opportunity, which I will cherish throughout my career.
How do you define the importance of representativeness in theater and culture in general? How has this influenced your artistic choices?
The desire to be a father is something that I have, but I also feel that I have many other cultural and social “children”, like my students, with whom I make a social commitment in my educational career. Many of my artistic choices are linked to the social impact I can cause, as I understand that a career goes beyond work and money; it’s also about how it can impact society.
I come from a favela in Vila Ruth, where dreams and planning are often limited. Few young people in my community see an artistic career as a possibility. Therefore, being a black man and having the opportunity to be a protagonist and have a voice in cultural projects is something very important to me.
Looking at the last 10 years in the music scene, the lack of black protagonists is notorious. Representativeness is scarce and I believe that it is necessary to make amends in this regard. While working in Spain, I realized that there, even as a protagonist, I competed with a lot of other white men. However, upon returning to Brazil, it is notable that representation here is still limited and not very diversified.
It is essential to have more references, more black professionals in Brazilian musical theater. We need producers who don’t just consider skin color, but value the professionalism of these people. It is important for black men and women to occupy not only the stage, but also behind the scenes, bringing their voices and perspectives to the art scene.
The path to change is broad and challenging, but it is essential that we pursue greater representation in Brazilian musical theater. Diversity enriches art and it is everyone’s responsibility to foster that inclusion and ensure that everyone has the space and voice to express their stories and cultures.
What are your future plans? What projects would you like to do or characters you would like to play?
I fully understand that, although normally I say that I don’t make many plans for the future, now, as an Aquarian that I am, I feel that I need a break, to take a vacation, even if it’s for 15 days. After the intense work in Brazil, playing great characters like Milton Nascimento, Fiel Luiz and others, I feel the need to go back to my home in Spain and rest a little, rebuild myself, oxygenate and breathe in new experiences.
There were many challenges in a short period of time, and before that, it was already coming from other intense jobs like Lola and others. My vacations were practically non-existent, between flights between Spain and Brazil, crossing continents, and I quickly embarked on new projects, such as Clube da Esquina, which I was already waiting for the other day.
Now, more than ever, I feel the need to rest and recharge my physical, mental and vocal energies. It was a year of hard work and dedication, giving life to important characters in history. I am immensely grateful to the producers who believe in me, in my potential and in my work, trusting me with such significant characters to tell their stories.
Despite the holidays, I’m excited for the new challenges ahead. I believe that, after this period of rest, I will be renewed and ready to face new opportunities and projects that may arise. Thank you for being part of this journey in musical theater and for the trust you have placed in me. I look forward to what the future holds and the stories I will still have the privilege of telling and performing.
Follow Tiago Barbosa onInstagram