by Andrea Gaini
Musical theatre is a very difficult and challenging form of art. Not only for the triple-thread actors, but, in particular, for the authors. Shows on a blonde girl going to Harvard Law can make a huge success, and then musicals about morally and historically important topics may well fail miserably to meet the audiences’ expectations.
Tiger Bay stands right in the middle. The show doesn’t bring anything particularly new into the world of musical theatre, nevertheless it expands the scope of great shows to watch.
This all-Welsh creation produced by the Millennium Centre itself, represents the disputes between the growing working class of “donkeymen” and the Capitalist stereotype, who makes money out of anything in Tiger Bay. The show explores the topics of racism against the African immigrants living in the Bay, exploitation of the “water boys”, romance, friendship and, to some extent, even magic.
The main characters, a black man named Themba, a blonde girl betrothed to the evil Seamus O’Rourke, and the desperate Third Marquess of Bute (played by the award-winning actor Mr. Owen-Jones) are all played amazingly by actors with incredibly beautiful voices, acting skills and dancing movements. John Owen-Jones gave me goose bumps multiple times when singing “Mary” – a song in which the Marquess prays his dead wife to help him find their child – and the duet with the talented Ianto, a real star of the show.
The kids’ ensemble was unbelievable. From the girl playing Ianto and her perfect-pitched voice, to the other kids playing the roles of the water boys that were just as good. Always on time in stage, funny, cute and all fabulous dancers. The choruses were impeccable, while the moment Ianto reveals his real identity left us all very surprised to discover that what we thought to be a boy for the entire duration of the show, was actually a girl, impressive.
This show, yet, presents some déjà vu moments which penalised the remarkable work of the production team. The entire construction of the musical made it feel like the “Les Mis of Wales”, the role of kids, their exploitation and the way they were staged often recalled the musical Oliver, which didn’t help in the creation of a clear identity of the show. Finally, the grand finale felt a lot like a pre-made audience-pleasing ending which I found disappointing.
Being the show inspired by the history of Wales and Cardiff, everything, from the set to the themes addressed, felt vastly real. However the characters seemed to be building up a story which, at first, appeared to be fitting, but in the end, I found a bit out-of-tune.
While when heading to the theatre I was hoping to see a real Welsh musical, I was left only partially convinced by the outcome. Tiger Bay is a great attempt to bring Welsh culture to the world, and overall it delivers a very intriguing musical. The performance itself was outstanding: the actors, the set, the lighting, the music were all very well executed. However, the story was too conformist and often standardised the Welsh culture and the plot to match the taste of musical theatre fans, though hardly challenging the boundaries of it.