Eva Noblezada has made her Broadway debut in the demanding lead role of Kim in Miss Saigon, for which she earned a Tony nomination—and she’s only 21 years old. But anyone who’s seen her performance knows she’s just getting started. Theater fans should get a good look at her in this role—it’s a star-making turn for this powerhouse singer, echoing Lea Salonga’s Broadway debut playing the same part more than 25 years ago.
Noblezada is new to New York—but she’s spent a lifetime on stage, starting from when she went to a performing-arts middle school growing up in North Carolina. (“Unfortunately, I compromised my education working on my arts classes instead of my academic classes,” she says, laughing. “When you give someone like me the choice of studying math or their monologue, what are you going to choose?”) And with an aunt who performed in the original Broadway production of Miss Saigon, you might say Noblezada was born for this.
Even though Noblezada didn’t win the Tony (Bette Midler did, for Hello, Dolly!), she was deeply grateful for a memorable night at the awards show, performing live on national TV with the Miss Saigon cast and also getting to meet many of her musical theater idols, like Sutton Foster, at the awards ceremony. Noblezada was kind enough to take some time before a recent performance to chat about her life in musical theater, her showbiz aunt and how it felt to break through to Broadway.
Miss Saigon is playing now on Broadway for a limited time only, through January 14. Buy tickets here.
Growing up in North Carolina, did you ever make it up to New York for shows?
Eva Noblezada: My auntie took me to New York a few times. The first time I went, I was 9, and I saw the big three at the time: The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast. It was incredible. You always remember the first shows you saw.
Was there one thing that stuck with you from those shows?
EN: I remember seeing The Lion King—and when all the animals were coming down the aisle, I felt so emotional. I leaned over to my auntie and said, “I’m going to be onstage when I grow up.” And she goes, “I know!” After that, she took a picture of me and my cousins on Broadway, and you can see the Broadway Theatre [where Miss Saigon is now playing] in the background.
It sounds like your aunt predicted you would be on Broadway.
EN: She did! I don’t remember how many times I would be singing when I was a young girl and she would say, “You’re going to be on Broadway someday.” She even predicted I would play Kim in Miss Saigon! She believed in me before anyone else, and she’s always been there for me.
And she was in shows too?
EN: Oh, yeah. If you’re a Sesame Street fan, do you remember Celina the dance studio owner? That’s my auntie [Annette Calud]. And she was in the original Miss Saigon cast on Broadway. She even knows Lea Salonga, who played Kim. She knows a lot of the people now that I met along the way who would all say, “I knew your auntie.”
How early were you interested in Broadway shows as a child?
EN: I was always singing and always performing. So I knew from a young age that I wanted to be onstage. When I was 8, I was obsessed with The Phantom of the Opera DVD—I was singing it all the time. I wouldn’t shut up. That was my introduction to musical theater. When I was 11, I went to Northwest School of the Arts, a performing-arts middle school in North Carolina. That’s when it hit me—that you can sing all these musicals from different parts of the world and times of history, and you can wear all these costumes and act and dance. I fell in love with the whole concept.
Did your parents encourage your interest in musicals?
EN: My dad graduated college to be a music teacher, so growing up he was my vocal coach. I’d be 6 years old, singing a really crazy song, and he’d be like, “Watch your pitch.” I had a lot of musical influence from my dad.
You first came to NYC for the Jimmy Awards competition at the Minskoff Theatre in 2013, when you were 17 years old. You didn’t win—but you did get the attention of a casting director, Tara Rubin, who ended up casting you in the London production of Miss Saigon.
EN: Tara was in the audience because she was a friend of my theater director from Northwest. I’m actually glad I didn’t win the award, because the winner got a scholarship toward college and I was never really interested in college—as terrible as that sounds. So I’m glad I didn’t win, but I’m so grateful for the recognition.
How did you feel when you found out you were going to New York for the first Broadway revival of Miss Saigon since the original 1991 production?
EN: I remember every second. I was coming back to my flat in Covent Garden, and I had groceries on both arms weighing me down. I got a call from my agent and he says, “Hey—so about Broadway?” and I go, “Yeah…what about it?” He just starts talking like we’ve had the conversation and says, “So, yeah, they want you to do Broadway,” and I’m like, “What?!” He assumed I knew what was happening. And I just remember going, “OK—cool, great—thank you very much,” and hanging up and going into my flat. I unloaded all the groceries and my boyfriend was in the other room and I was like, “Oh, we’re going to Broadway!” And then we both started crying. That’s normally how I react to things. When I found out I got nominated for a Tony, I did the same exact thing.