Eva Noblezada: Welcome to Dreamland
written by Abby DePhillips
photography by Nathan Johnson
videography and editing by Drew John Barnes
video produced by Nathan Johnson
In a new Saturday Night Live sketch, “Before the Show,” middle-school students about to perform Legally Blonde: The Musical wonder, “Can middle-school productions win Tonys?”
It’s natural, dreaming our middle and high school musical theatre stardom will catapult us right to Broadway, but for Eva Noblezada, that dream came true. After winning the Best Actress Blumey Award for her performance as Ariel in Footloose in high school in North Carolina, Noblezada was whisked away to compete at the National High School Musical Theater Awards, affectionately known as “The Jimmys,” and part of that honor is the opportunity to perform on Broadway at the Minskoff Theater.
While she didn’t walk away with the award that night, she did walk away with an encouraging word from casting director Tara Rubin and the hope that maybe, just maybe, she would be back on Broadway someday. Just shy of four years later, when the highly anticipated revival of Miss Saigon opened on March 23, that same casting director could tell her, “I told you so.”
Eva is my friend, and we’re going to sit here and eat cookies and I’m going to yell at her for breaking everyone’s hearts as the leading lady in Miss Saigon.
Abby: Hi, Eva Noblezada. First things first, welcome to Broadway.
Eva: Thank you, it’s amazing to be here. It still hits me at random parts of the day. Just trying to take it with grace.
Abby: You’re so good! To backtrack a little, let’s talk about the Jimmys. So you won in North Carolina, and then you got to come to New York. My favorite part of that entire situation is that you didn’t win the Jimmys.
Eva: I know! I mean we all knew it was a competition, but we didn’t really see it like that, because we were just so excited to be in New York performing. I was one of the finalists, so I got to sing a solo, which to me is still amazing. The girl who won is insanely talented.
Abby: It’s so cool though because I feel like it’s really nice for anyone that ever feels like they came close to something and didn’t get it, it just goes to show it’s not the end.
Eva: Totally not the end. Not in the slightest.
Abby: Have you always wanted to be on Broadway?
Eva: When I was younger, I wanted to be an opera singer. How funny is that? Then I wanted to be a singer, and then when I first started watching videos and went to my performing arts high school, I was like, “You can sing, act, dance, and wear funny costumes at the same time? This is my dream.”
Abby: That’s so funny. Did you ever think about performing in London?
Eva: Oh my God, no! In school, it was always “Broadway, Broadway, Broadway” because it’s on our side of the Pond, I think. There were a lot of things skimmed over in school. We didn’t learn the importance of the West End. We just knew a lot of shows started over there. You know, the whole British Invasion, when all the English musicals came to America. That was all we knew of the West End, and it wasn’t until I started knowing more about it when I got Saigon, I was like, “This is a big deal.” It changed my life. I see myself settling in London and living there permanently.
Abby: Too bad, you can’t leave me now.
Eva: Oh no, you’ll come with me. In my suitcase. A donut-shaped suitcase.
Abby: [Laughs] Oh, okay, great!
Eva: I am enjoying New York, though. It’s so beautiful. There’s a lot of things to offer that I didn’t really think about because I’ve never lived here. I’m loving the city.
Abby: Yeah, you’re a city girl.
Eva: Oh my God, yeah. I’m a city girl.
Abby: Eva Noblezada is the epitome of a city girl! So with the Jimmys, did you get to graduate? Or were you swept off to be a star beforehand?
Eva: Actually, students, I don’t have a high-school degree. I didn’t take fancy acting classes. Just because you don’t, doesn’t mean you won’t be successful. I’ve heard that so many times. I’ve heard people ask, “When are you going to go back to college?” That’s the most patronizing thing.
Abby: Are you like, “Um, I’m literally Miss Saigon, I don’t need to go to school”?
Eva: I’ve come this far, and if you go to musical theater school, you go to do this. I’m here and trying to be a sponge and soak up everything I can. I never wanted to go to college. I was scared what would happen to my originality. And it’s not for everyone—it is for some people!
Abby: I also feel like a huge part of going to college is learning those real-life skills, and I feel like the people surrounding you are the best teachers.
Eva: Absolutely! Yeah, I have an amazing circle of people. Friends like Jon Jon [Briones], who plays the Engineer. We did the show in London together as the Engineer and Kim. I consider him the older brother I never had. He’s there for me onstage. He’s there for me offstage. His family is there for me. That’s special. They’re all such intelligent people. They know the business, they know life; and Jon Jon is so good at pouring wisdom on everybody.
Abby: He is the best.
Eva: I love him so much.
Abby: So there have been a lot of grown-up Tams (Tam is Kim and Chris’s son in Saigon) at the show. What advice would you want to give to your Tams so that when they’re older they’ll be able to say, “My Kim told me this”?
Eva: Stop comparing yourself to other people—in any aspect. It can be looks, success—it can literally be anything. You have to realize that your strengths are your strengths. You have strengths that they don’t, and you have weaknesses that they don’t; and that’s what makes people so powerful, that they’re so different. Comparing yourself to other people and saying you’re never going to be good enough is the quickest way for you to fail and empty yourself of self-love and confidence. Do the opposite. I find inspiration from people, but I suffer from that myself. I always compare myself to people and say “I’m never going to be like this, I’m never going to be as good as so-and-so” and that made me sink. But do your own thing, follow your instincts, and remember to love yourself, because I think that’s the most important thing.
Abby: That’s really good advice. On a more fun note, you and I both just turned 21!
Eva: Oh my God!
Abby: So we are legally…
Eva: Blonde. Say it.
Abby: [Laughs] Yeah, I wanted to say it so bad! Well, we both just turned 21, which makes us babies. I mean, I was there, but what was your first legal drink in New York City? Because, to be fair, you were in London for a few years beforehand.
Eva: Yeah, I’m not going to lie you guys. There were a few sweet people at the stage door that night that were like, “Are you excited to try your first sip of alcohol?” I’ve been in London! [Laughs] My first drink here was… I honestly don’t remember if it was a double Tanqueray and tonic or a glass of champagne.
Abby: I hated what I drank at your birthday. [Laughs]
Eva: What did you drink? Tequila? Abby doesn’t do hard liquor.
Abby: Nope! We’re learning that very quickly.
Eva: You liked your rum drink last night! You had two!
Abby: I did! What was that called? It was pink. [We Googled—it’s a Bay Breeze.]
Eva: I did meet you guys and I was a little tipsy already.
Abby: We’re switching you to desserts.
Eva: I’m telling you guys now: I try my best to practice what I preach when I say your body is beautiful, have that extra glass, have that extra cookie, but I struggle with it too. So much so, that at dinner last night with Jon Jon, I was like, “Should I have wine and a carb, wine and dessert, or dessert and a carb?”
Abby: But then you came and met us, and got pie, cake, and a bottle of wine.
Eva: [Laughs] Oh my God, I did order pie! No, I forgot about the pie!
Abby: Everyone’s going to read this and be like, “But where does she put it all?” When I saw you in London I was like, “This girl is so tiny.” And here I’m like, “This girl is still so tiny.”
Eva: Yeah, she says that because she was sitting in the back back back of the theater.
Abby: No! When I went to the box office, they gave me Cameron Mackintosh’s seats!
Eva: [Sighs] Can I just say that everyone loves Abby?
Abby: Wait, can I just say though, I think it’s necessary to put this in here: Eva is the best friend ever. She’s the friend that you can text when she’s having the busiest day and you’re like, “Yeah I’m just kind of feeling weird about something,” and she’s like, “I’ll see you in fifteen minutes and I’ll kill them all.”
Eva: It’s very rare that I feel like this with someone because I feel like I’ve known Abby for years, and I definitely haven’t.
Abby: Yeah, we actually only met recently. We met at a Gagged Chokers photo shoot maybe two months ago?
Abby: That’s so crazy. And we realized we were both about to turn 21 and we were like, “We’re going to each other’s birthday parties!”
Eva: Well because I was definitely like, “There’s no way you’re turning 21.” I thought you were 26. And you were like, “No I’m turning 21!” And I was like, “What the hell?”
Abby: I mean I knew your story, seeing you in London, but still couldn’t believe you were 18.
Eva: Abby’s nuts though, what she’s doing at her age. It’s nuts.
Abby: [Laughs] Can we just back up for one second? You guys all know Eva is Miss Saigon, right? And she’s going to say what I’m doing is cool? What I’m doing is eating donuts and seeing Broadway shows.
Eva: No, I was a freak accident.
Abby: You were not a freak accident!
Eva: No, it was a freak accident for a 17-year-old. Just like Lea [Salonga]! That was a freak accident. Lea was so good, she was only 17.
Abby: That should prove to you even more! It would be a freak accident if you got the gig and everyone was like, “Who let her go onstage??” And that’s clearly not the case. [Laughs] You look at Lea and her career, and look at you and where you already are. I’m already so excited to see the rest of your career.
Stranger: I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be nosy, but you guys are some smart young ladies. I was hearing a little bit of your conversation.
Eva: Oh my God, that’s so kind!
Abby: We’re including this so other people know someone thinks we’re smart. [Laughs] Okay, when did you first meet Lea?
Eva: I met her in London. My company manager was like, “Are you ready? You ready to meet her?” And I was shaking. She treated me like she had met me before. She was so warm, so lovely. She is the nicest person. That was an amazing day.
Abby: She probably saw so much of herself in you, which had to be so special for her too. I remember getting to see you guys sing together at Carnegie Hall. That was probably one of my favorite New York City experiences. Jeremy Jordan singing “Why God Why” and Steven Pasquale singing “Bui Doi.”
Eva: When Jeremy was singing, I was like, “Whaaaaaat.”
Abby: Can this interview just be a Jeremy Jordan, come back to Broadway plug?
Eva: Like a Smash thing!
Abby: [Gasps] Wait! Can we talk about how much you love Smash? If the world didn’t know you were kind of a theater dork, this is a pretty good indicator.
Eva: You have to remember I was literally just from school, watching videos of Katie Rose Clarke in my bedroom, writing down acting tips I was learning from Katie Rose Clarke.
Abby: Yep, we were both obsessed with Katie Rose Clarke in high school!
Eva: Obsessed. And I work with her now! And we’re about to go shopping with her! That’s what cool people do. We’re smart and cool.
Abby: I mean we’re having Sex and the City-themed girls nights with Katie Rose Clarke! We’re so cool!
Eva: We all know Abby’s Charlotte.
Abby: Eva is so clearly the Samantha, and Katie’s our Carrie.
Eva: Katie’s so Carrie.
Abby: Okay what else. So, you’re killing it in Saigon. Whenever I’m with you, people are like, “I can’t believe you know her.” And I’m like, “I can’t believe I know her.”
Eva: I think that’s hilarious.
Abby: I mean I saw it three times in London. That’s how ridiculously talented she is. I’ve also seen it like nine times here, so I don’t know why I thought three sounded impressive.
Eva: Abby can sing the show in her sleep.
Abby: Yeah, I really love this show. You’re just so good in it.
Eva: Please come see Miss Saigon!
Abby: Yeah, I’ll go with you!
Eva: Come on down, have a laugh.
Abby: That’s Eva’s favorite joke. The show being a comedy.
Eva: That’s my ongoing joke. It’s not really funny anymore. [Laughs]
Abby: Anything else? Any profound wisdom?
Eva: I’ll be launching a really special thing soon. It’s a very empowering, friendly place to go. So watch for that; I’m really excited about it. You’re going to see a lot of pictures of Abby on there because she’s a good friend.
Abby: Oh my gosh, I’m a good friend?! You’re a good friend. Okay, I love you Eva.
Eva: Love you. And I love you guys!
Styling by James Brown III, Aubrey Mae Davis and Allegra Levy
Hair & Makeup by Erin Acker
Clothing by Zara