Picture it. You're the star of all of your high school shows. You are nominated for a National High School Musical Theatre Award for your performance as Ariel in Footloose, and, as a finalist, get to perform a solo on the stage of Broadway's Minskoff Theatre. You don't win, but you're named a runner-up, receiving a $2,500 scholarship.
On July 1, 2013, that's what happened to Eva Noblezada. But something else happened too as a result: Noblezada ended up making her West End debut less than a year later in Cameron Mackintosh's highly anticipated revival of the classic Boublil and Schönberg musical Miss Saigon. She was 18 and taking on the coveted role of Kim, originated by Lea Salonga.
Noblezada went on to win a 2015 WhatsOnStage Award for her performance as the orphan girl who falls for an American GI in war-torn Vietnam. Now, three years after her big break, she's bringing her Kim to the Broadway Theatre, where the first-ever Broadway revival of the show begins performances on March 1. Before rehearsals began, Noblezada shared her excitement and reflected on this "magical" experience.
Tell me about how you went from performing at the Jimmy Awards to starring on the West End in Miss Saigon?
I was a finalist at the Jimmy Awards, so I was able to sing my own solo [as opposed to participating solely in group numbers]. Luckily, there was a woman in the audience, Tara Rubin, who was the casting director for Ghost the Musical, which I chose my song from. She came to see me after the show and made me aware of the auditions [for Miss Saigon] and set me up with my audition for Cameron for Kim. It just kind of snowballed from there. After three auditions, Cameron asked me if I wanted to move to London, which is crazy.
Were you familiar with Miss Saigon?
Not too much. I didn't know anything that happened [in the story] past "Last Night of the World." Of course, I had "I'd Give My Live for You" and "I Still Believe" in my repertoire, but that's all I knew.
Kim's a tough part, and you started doing the show when you were eighteen. How hard was it to shed the show from your life after a performance?
In the beginning, because I was very young, I didn't understand how to just cut her off and go home and be myself. So I did take Kim home with me emotionally. What she went through I felt like I went through, and it wasn't easy for the first…I would say almost a year. I was adjusting to my own baggage in life. Combined, it was almost too much for an eighteen year old. It did take a while for me to learn how to put so much into my job and still be me as soon as I left the stage door.
After doing the show for so long in London, how did you manage to keep it fresh every night?
I ask myself that too. It almost seems impossible. I would always challenge myself to make my performance better in little ways. I never wanted my show to be consistent, not in an unprofessional way, but to keep things fresh. I would be working on something every single night. I'm excited to see how that's paid off when we start again. Live theater is beautiful. You don't know what's going to happen. You might get an audience that doesn't make any noise, and you wonder if anyone's even there, or you get the amazing electric ones that are constantly clapping and you can see the tears. But you have to switch it around every now and then to make it fun.
Have you spoken to Lea Salonga about playing the role? Did she have any wisdom for you?
She's just full of wisdom. When I did meet her for the first time in London, she was very encouraging and was fully aware that every woman who does Kim makes it her own. She's a lovely woman, she really is. She gets the job done but she's also real, which I really respect. I have had other Kims, like my auntie [Annette Calud], who was a Kim [on Broadway], and Joanna Ampil [in London and Sydney], send me wonderful advice. It's just been great to have that support. You can meet someone who's been in Miss Saigon in a country you've never been to and you immediately feel like you're part of the family.
How special is it to know that you'll do the Broadway run with your West End costars Alistair Brammer, Jon Jon Briones, and Rachelle Ann Go?
Rachelle's like a sister to me, and Jon Jon is like the older brother I never had. Alistair is my first Chris, and it's nice to have him be my first Chris here, together making our Broadway debuts. I was very lucky that he's a goofball like me. We can very much laugh at our mistakes and not take things too seriously, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of getting our job done, we do that with one hundred fifty percent commitment. If I ever felt uncomfortable or if it was a long day, we could always depend on each other to have a laugh. We did have a very good chemistry, which made it easier to do our jobs onstage.
Being able to do this with people I've already established as lifelong friends makes me feel whole. I'm ready to embrace it and run full-speed ahead.