FILIPINO-American theater fans in the tri-state area are counting down the days, as Miss Saigon – the musical that has cast most Filipinos than any other musical in history – makes its return to the Broadway stage this spring. Previews begin on March 1 and the official opening is March 23. The musical will run until January next year and a national tour will follow in October 2018.
Eva Noblezada was barely 18 years old when she was thrust into the limelight and cast as Kim in the West End revival of the musical back in May 2014. She was then a high school student at the Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina.
We chatted with Eva a couple of weeks ago at the Times Square office of legendary theater producer Cameron Mackintosh, the man behind Broadway hits such as “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Mary Poppins” and “Miss Saigon.”
First, I asked her about her upcoming Broadway debut.
“I’m ready. I’ve been preparing myself—not just for Broadway—but just in general. I just want to always be prepared and I feel like I’m ready to start again,” Eva shared. “I’m excited to see what changes I can make to make my performance better.”
The Broadway production reunites Eva with some of her castmates from West End: Jonjon Briones as The Engineer, Alistair Brammer as Chris and Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi. This makes Eva giddy in anticipation as she has built a strong relationship with them when they were still in London.
“I love them, I am a very lucky girl. I don’t think people realize how lucky I am. My relationship with Jonjon, he’s like the older brother I never had. I consider his family my family. Alistair, I get along with him really well, along with his lovely wife. We have a good chemistry and we laugh together. Shin is my sis, I could tell her everything. I’m grateful for her and I’m glad that all four of us are making our Broadway debuts together,” she mused.
Her journey so far
Eva Maria Noblezada was born in San Diego, California and their family moved to Charlotte when she was six years old. They have lived there since.
“Charlotte wasn’t really me but I made the most out of the time I had there and it was great. But I was really eager to leave and start doing what I love because I did not have the opportunities that I needed there,” she related. “So when it was time to leave, it was bittersweet to leave my family but I was so excited to go to London and start my life.”
Despite the major adjustments, Eva fell in love with London and what the city had to offer. It was her home for nearly three years. She admits missing it so much but she is looking forward to living in New York.
“London had its arms wide open for me. It was a special time of my life when I moved and lived there, alone as an independent woman. It was amazing,” she said. “I didn’t know how to imagine my life there because I didn’t move, I never left the country before so it was such a new experience and it was worth everything. Every new experience I just grabbed on to and clinged on to. I’ll never forget those first few months.”
Eva spoke with a certain level of maturity in her voice, particularly when she talked about her family. She will turn 21 on March 18.
Her leaving them in North Carolina was sad, but it was expected she said. She had to act like an adult and accept the responsibilities that came with accepting the role that would change her life forever.
“I got family-sick all the time. I wanted to see them but I had to work. You can’t always have everything you want,” she said matter-of-factly.
She found a cure to being family-sick and home-sick when she made new friends.
“I made a living for myself, that’s a huge thing, not having to depend on anybody. Learning to do things that I never had to learn when I was at home. It was growing up really quickly and I really loved it,” she added.
Born to do it
Eva vividly remembers the moment she knew she wanted to be a performer.
She was around four or five and she sang in front of a church where she wore “this hideous orange and pink skirt with white buttons”. She felt that everyone in the family knew that it was something she was going to do.
“I was always singing, always the loudest one. I loved putting on costumes,” she reminisced laughing. “I (even) tried to make a stage in my Lola’s and Papa’s backyard with wood and I failed epically. “
At the age of nine, she watched her first Broadway musical, “Lion King” at the Minskoff Theater.
“I remember everything. I got emotional in the beginning. I was like ‘This is so beautiful!’ and I want to do it so bad,” she shared. “I wanted to do what they were doing. It makes perfect sense now, it is what I want to do.”
Nearly ten years later, she was back in the same theater, not as an audience member but as a performer on that theater’s stage singing her heart out.
It was for the National High School Musical Theatre Awards or more famously known in the industry as The Jimmys, named after Broadway producer James Nederlander. She earned the right to go to New York when she won at The Blumeys, Charlotte’s regional competition.
Eva sang “With You,” a ballad from Ghost, The Musical.
“I was initially like, ‘Meh, Ghost’ I’ve seen it and it’s sad. Then, I listened to it again and wow, it is a beautiful song. It spoke to me in ways I didn’t think a song could,” she said.
Broadway casting agent Tara Rubin was inside that theater that day. She fell in love with Eva’s rendition and recommended Eva to Miss Saigon’s director Laurence Connor and eventually, Cameron Mackintosh.
“It was luck and it was a God thing, it was crazy. She was in the audience and it was crazy coincidental. I was just very lucky,” she said.
The family went back home to North Carolina and a month later, she got a call to audition for “Miss Saigon.”
They drove back to New York to do it, then drove back down. A few weeks later, they drove back again for two more auditions. Her final audition was at the Majestic Theater in front of Cameron Mackintosh himself.
She sang “I’d Give My Life” for You’ and after her performance, Mackintosh offered the role to her.
“Three auditions in all and he told me I got the part,” she said wistfully.
“I just couldn’t stop repeating what he said – ‘Would you like to move to London? Would you like to move to London?’ I couldn’t think of anything else, it was so overwhelming. It didn’t really hit me until we got home and I was screaming with my family. It was amazing,” Eva added.
As we closed the interview, I asked her how Miss Saigon changed her life.
She paused a bit and reflected.
Then she replied, “It forced me to grow up and [it] made me realize how to understand who I am as a person and as an actor and it really ignited my passion to act and perform and tell a story. It taught me as a young woman how to live my life. It taught me a lot of things and I am grateful that I get to do this with this elite group of people and that I get to work with them.”