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January 8, 2018
Interview: Eva Noblezada on Leaving ‘Saigon’ and Becoming a ‘Girl No More’

There’s no question 2017 was a breakout year for stage phenom Eva Noblezada. With a highly anticipated Broadway debut, a much-lauded Tony nomination, and even a marriage to her longtime boyfriend, it’s safe to say that the spunky starlet has indeed “conquered the world now that she’s grown” and her flame shows no sign of burning out anytime soon.

Earlier this Fall, Noblezada capped off her banner year by making her cabaret debut, with a series of solo concerts that offered a no-holds-barred look at her journey to womanhood and how she came to terms with the fact that she was, as her title suggests, a “girl no more.” Filled with jazz standards, pop ballads, and flashy, splashy Broadway numbers, the evening was a complete departure from the character she displays in her Tony-nominated turn as the demure young Kim.

Now, as she wraps up her run in Saigon, Noblezada is getting raw and real with her audience once again, with a return engagement of her acclaimed extravaganza at the Green Room 42. During a break in her ever-busy schedule, we caught up with the feisty firecracker to discuss all things life, love, and spontaneous YouTube spirals.

Can you talk about how the idea for such an evening came about? What was the impetus behind you venturing into cabaret? 

The Saigon cast was doing a concert at the Green Room [42] for the benefit of my castmate’s husband actually, who was really badly injured in an accident over the summer… it was really tragic… so we were raising money for him with this concert.

It’s a new place [opened in February of 2017], so it was the first time many of us had ever been there. And my manager was in the audience, and when the night finished, we were approached by the booking agent for the Green Room [42], and he asked us if we had any ideas about something that I could do there [as a solo act]. And it sort of all fell into place.

And then, in terms of putting together the show itself, I was ready to show everyone the real Eva. I think — especially with me being put in the spotlight at such a young age — that people started to develop this perception of who I was, based upon my character Kim. She really couldn’t be more opposite to who I am as a young woman in real life.

I just found it really frustrating to meet people and then have them assume that I was just this young, naive, innocent child (laughs). You know what I mean? I find it kind of patronizing.

And for me, [this concert] was my time to say, “You know what? [Saigon] is a job. Kim is not who I am, and not where I come from. I want to take the time to tell my story… as Eva. And I want to have a concert where I can relax, have a drink, say the F word as many times as I want, and sing songs that I love and that I want to sing.”

And what’s been really beautiful in doing these concerts is that I’m [not sacrificing] my artistry. I’m still showing people who I am as an artist. It just goes to show how wide theatre and performance can reach. I can go onstage and be an innocent, virginal young girl, but I can also curse people out and… (laughs) No, I’m just kidding. But you know what I mean? [Kim] is not who I really am. And it’s been great to show off the other side of me. And the response has been incredible. I’m so grateful. It’s been a lot of fun.

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Your set list is one of the most eclectic ones out there. Can you describe your process in putting it together? Knowing the topics and themes you were going to cover, were there any songs you knew you had to include?  

Oh my gosh… it was so easy for me. ‘Cause it’s really just a list of songs that I’m absolutely in love with. I’ll tell you… I didn’t learn a single new song. It was just all songs that were close to my heart, that meant something to me, and funny enough, when you put them all in a row like I do in the concert, it just sort of organically tells my story through music. I just hop from one influence to the next. Yeah… choosing songs for the set list was so easy. Especially [for] my D-Eva medley… ‘cause that’s a whole bunch of stuff I’ve always wanted to do. It’s like the little girl inside of me just bursts out… it’s so much fun. It all worked out really well.

You’ve been performing all these solo concerts concurrently with performing  in Miss Saigon. How do you find that balance between the two projects? With the weight of a role like Kim, are you glad to have this other outlet as Eva? 

Oh, sure! But it’s all a blessing! I’m really just constantly pinching myself every day that I’m [given] the opportunity to do both these things that I love so much. I’m so in love with Saigon, but I’m also in love with singing jazz standards and pop ballads… you know, Amy Winehouse, Annie Lennox, like I do in my show. It’s like I said before… being able to be myself without sacrificing the artistry… that’s so special to me.

But also, to answer your other question, you know, at the end of the day, they’re both still work. So, I have to be really careful and make sure my voice is up to par... that does take a little bit of balance. But I take quite a hit in the [Broadway] show anyway, so maintaining it for the concert doesn’t really bother me that much. (laughs). 

You’ve been in New York for a little over a year now. Given where you are now, how would you define Broadway, and — in keeping with theme of your cabaret show — does that description align with what you thought it would be as a little girl? 

Ooh.. that’s a good question! I mean, first, let me say... I guess I didn’t know what to think when I went to the West End because I didn’t really have any preconceived expectations… as a young American girl in musical theatre school, you know, you don’t really grow up with dreams of being in the West End… it’s usually that you want to be on Broadway. So I didn’t know what to expect there. But I got there, and it completely took my breath away. I fell in love with it.

And then, I came here [to New York]… and it’s just been magical. It really has. I mean, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

And then, I guess… [in terms of things that didn’t align with my perceptions], I do find that the theaters [in New York] are gross. (laughs) That’s literally the only con I can think of. (laughs) But it’s a big one. The theaters here are dis-gusting. There is mold growing in the Broadway Theatre. Most of us have had thrush infections in our vocal cords for months now. It’s an ongoing battle of going to work, but then having to jeopardize your health. It’s complete bullshit if you ask me.  But that’s kind of the only thing that didn’t [align] with my expectations as a girl… the only thing I hated, to be honest.

You mentioned the aim in your show is to let audiences get to know you on a more “human” level. Can you speak a bit more as to why you feel it’s  important to show that side? Are there any advantages for you as the benefactor? How does it help? 

Look. I’m a girl who struggles with comparisons to others, I deal with stress… I suffer from anxiety. I struggle with body dysmorphia, I used to suffer from bulimia… and it’s incredibly important to let people realize that though you see us as performers, we are human. It works in [the reverse], too. I wouldn’t want a young girl to be idolizing me, and strive for that cookie-cutter [mentality] when she grows up. I want her to go, “Wow! That girl has problems just like I do! And if she can do it, think of what I can do!” That’s what I want to show people with this [evening]. I want to inspire people, and encourage them to be like their idols, but not to be their idols exactly. ‘Cause they’re their own person. You’re not just like me, you’re just like you. Do you know what I mean?

And I feel the same way when people say things to me at stage door, like “You’re a little mini-Lea Salonga.” I’m like, “You know how much I love that woman… how much I adore that woman… how I treasure every instance where I get to speak with her, but… I’m not her. I’m not anybody. I’m me. I’m my own person.” I mean, what a patronizing thing to say! We’re human, we’re individual... we’re not objects.

So, back to your question, it does work both ways. It’s a tricky business, though, because we are in it to play characters, and to perform and entertain… but I believe it’s hugely important to let everyone see that human side of you as well.

In that same vein, is there anyone you’ve admired from the Broadway or film world that you’d really enjoy getting to know on a more “human” level? 

(Sighs) I will say this. When I met Sutton Foster at the Tonys, I cried. And it totally didn’t help that it happened right before we went on to perform. I was shaking like a leaf, and thinking, “God, I wish I had a drink right now!” But it was so incredible to meet somebody that, as a girl, I literally spent hours watching on YouTube... just, like, studying her. Oh my gosh, she’s so brilliant!

I would also love to meet Chrissy Teigen. I feel like she and I could be really good friends. I feel like we have very similar personalities, and I think she’s hilarious.

But really, I just like meeting different people from the industry in general. And finding that connection on a human level. ‘Cause I don’t want to talk about the industry all the time, you know? It’s boring. I work in the industry, I don’t wanna talk about it when I’m with somebody.. they know. Let’s talk about real stuff, you know? Get to know the real me.

Courtesy of Eva Noblezada

As if you weren’t busy enough, between your cabaret shows and Saigon, you also recently got married, and announced your marriage via Instagram after the fact. Would you mind talking about your decision to announce it in that way? Was it important to you to keep it a surprise? 

You know what’s funny? (sighs) People are so weird. I find it so strange that people got upset. They were like, “So… Eva… you didn’t tell me you were getting married.” And I’m like, “I’m not sorry, because I didn’t have to.” (laughs) You know?

But then, the other side of it is that I do enjoy sometimes being a cheeky butthole. Like, “Here we are! LOL! You didn’t even know we were engaged! And now we’re married!” (laughs) It’s who I am, and I think it adds to the enjoyment of life. It’s what makes it fun.

It’s probably no secret that your husband, Leo, is an actor as well. If there was a show that you could do together, which would you want it to be and why? 

Okay. I’m going to give you the answer that he would want me to say. He always says to me, “Babe, I would love for you to be my Kim.” And I say, “Yeah, that would be great, but [due to the intensity of the role and the Kim/Chris relationship] I probably then wouldn’t want to live with you, or be around you outside of work.” (laughs).

In all seriousness, though, I’d actually really love to do [Andrew Lippa’s] The Wild Party. I’m telling you, he would be the most incredible Burrs, and as you know, I’ve always wanted to play Queenie. It’s such a fun role. So, I’m putting that one out into the universe… we’ll see what happen.

One of the funnier, lighter bits in your show comes when you talk about regularly getting lost in continual YouTube spirals. What videos did your last binge consist of? 

Oh my God. Yeah, I’m obsessed. Let’s see… what was my last one? I think it was… you know the one with the little boy who gets an avocado for Christmas? I watched that one… that’s probably one of my favorite videos ever. I think after that, I watched Charice Pempengco’s “All By Myself,” and then it went from there. It was one of those things, as I talk about in the show, where I just wanted to watch this [one video], and then, you know how when YouTube finishes a video, [if you have it set to autoplay] it’ll keep going, and I went through, like, seven videos and by the end it was like Big Sean and Ariana Grande. It got to a point where I had to be like “Fuck that” and slam my laptop shut. (laughs).

In addition to your work as a performer, you’re also a huge advocate for mental health awareness. Given your own journey and struggles in life, what advice do you have for anyone who’s similarly struggling with their mental image? And why do you think it’s important, perhaps in this business especially, to be open about these types of issues? 

Okay. You need to learn to not have unrealistic expectations for yourself... [expectations] that are not fair to you as a person.

For example, I used to think that being a leading lady meant that I had to be 110 pounds, have perfect teeth and perfect skin, be a triple-threat and completely excel as an actor, singer and a dancer. That’s what I was taught to believe was the “standard” for Broadway.

And I hate to say it, because I love all these women [on Broadway] and I think they’re incredible, but they do all fit that standard. That’s how they all are.

And I’ve shared pictures of myself from when I was in high school (and I was still a baby then, so to speak, and still growing), and, you know, you put someone who looks like that in the spotlight and expect her to be a leading lady [with these qualities], and she’s obviously going to fall short.

And unfortunately, not for the better, social media does very little to help [that situation]. For me, it’s cutting out the bullshit in your everyday life, so that eventually, it just becomes muscle memory to overlook the things that don’t matter.

Like, don’t listen to the haters. Don’t follow [accounts] like Thinspiration on Instagram. Why would I want to feed my brain with those ideas first thing when I wake up or last thing before I go to sleep? Why would I want to have people around me that say terrible things about other people — well, unless they’re true, LOL — and [in the reverse] don’t put me in check when I’m talking trash about someone? Why would I want people like that in my life? Why would I put things into my body that aren’t good for me — well, except for wine and vodka, ‘cause I don’t believe that those count! — and then complain later about why I’m not feeling well?

But you know what I mean? It’s little things like that.. the things that we kind of ignore. We take for granted the health of our body. We take for granted the people that surround us in our daily life. Yes, you can cut people out of your life if they’re toxic [to your well-being]. It’s okay.

You were not put on this Earth to please everyone. And you have to accept that. And believe me, it’s a blessing. It’s a weight off your shoulders. Trust me.

Even speaking about me in terms of my performances, I was not put on this Earth to please everyone. I’m not going to hit that mark and nail it every day. I mean, obviously being a woman and hormonal, I’m susceptible to emotions anyway, but... my job is to tell a story and to tell it well. It has nothing to do with pleasing anyone. People will buy tickets if they want to. And it’s not my job to sell tickets… it’s really not. I’ve owned up to that and I accept that.

It’s just about [getting rid of] little expectations like that that don’t matter. Just finding the right coping methods... and the right people. I’ll tell you.. people are so important. You can do things by yourself, but you can’t do life by yourself. You really can’t.

And it’s about just taking time to breathe and sit back and really think about each situation. I have the “Angel Eva” and the “Devil Eva,” [who] sit on my shoulders. I will speak to them and [assess] every situation.

And then, the other thing is... I think it’s bullshit that [mental health and stability] is not talked about in this industry.  I don’t understand why people who have more [clout] in the business don’t talk about it more openly. Why is this [issue] not talked about? Like, at the end of the day, we’re putting ourselves onstage to be judged. I mean, honestly… do you really, really think that we don’t go home and judge ourselves?

When you do press or you’re out in the public eye, you don’t have to present your life as this [epitome of] perfection. That doesn’t freakin’ exist! You know, what [defines] perfection to me is having the people in my life that I do, and to be given this incredible gift and ability to not give a shit about things that don’t matter. That’s really all there is to it. And if you have that [gift], trust me, you’ll be just fine.

I know you recently stepped out of Saigon to watch a performance from the audience. What was the effect of experiencing the show from the outside in after all this time? How, if at all, did it change you as an artist?  

Oh, my God. It was such a trip. It was so good. Let me say that I’ve only ever seen the show twice. I stepped out to watch it one night in London, but had to leave after “Last Night of the World,” ‘cause I had an emergency situation to attend to. And then the second time I watched it was when I saw the [2016 25th Anniversary] movie... which I did not want to see, but I had to see for press purposes.

I’m always disgusted to see myself on screen. I hate watching myself. I hate it. I haven’t even seen my Tonys performance in full. I pushed myself to watch  about half of it, and then, I was like, “Turn this shit off.”

There was a third time I watched it, actually — the second time I watched the movie. Leo and I got really drunk one night when we were living in London, and he was like, “Let’s watch Saigon!” But I was so hammered, I don’t really remember it, so that doesn’t really count.

But this recent [experience] was amazing. It was amazing to see the show, and how far it’s come since I began with it. It hit me in so many ways how proud I am of this show, and how proud I am of this incredible cast. To see Lianah [Sta. Ana, the Kim alternate] up there… she broke. my. heart. And I love her so much as a person, which made watching her even more powerful and meaningful. I love Alistair [Brammer], I love Jon Jon [Briones], I just love these people, and to sit there and watch them [show off] their brilliance after working alongside them for so long was just incredible. And what really hit me, too, was the fact that I was so easily swept up in the story. To be able to be taken away on that journey — especially because it’s one that I know through and through, obviously, and I’m watching people I’ve worked with all along —   it was incredible. It really [reinforced] how powerful the impact of theatre can be. I was a mess. It made me really proud to be part of this community and really proud to be part of this brilliant company of actors. I’m now extra pumped for our final weeks of shows.

Going back to the topic of your cabaret, if you could pick one artist from your set list to do a duet with, who would it be and what would you sing? 

Oh my God.[Off the] top of the head? Amy Winehouse. I adore her. I wish she was still with us. And the song that I’d want to sing would be either “Me and Mr. Jones” or “Love is a Losing Game.”

Or really, I’d rather have had just have ten minutes alone talking with her in a room... maybe she could play a bit too. But it doesn’t have to be onstage in a performance. I’d’ve been happy just to get the chance to talk with her. She’s really, really great.

Given that the title of your show is Girl No More, would you say there was a particularly defining moment when you knew you were a “girl no more”? What was it and how did you know?

Wow! What a good question! Honestly, it was in England, when I was dropped off at the airport, and my mom left. I came back home, and closed the door and — I will never forget this — I remember turning around and looking into my flat and going, “Fuck. Okay. This is real.” I was two weeks shy of turning 18, and it was just a completely mental [moment for me]. I was just like, “I have never done this before.” And I really hadn’t. I hadn’t ever gotten close to living by myself before. It was a total calm-before-the-storm moment, and I remember thinking, “The shit is about to hit the fan.” I was so helpless. That was definitely the moment when I knew it was time to grow up... I just, honestly... I don’t think I knew it then (laughs).

Of all the songs in your show, which one would you say best represents Eva and why? 

I have such a place in my heart for the D-Eva medley. I love it. I really do. All those songs… they’re so much fun. But the one that really, truly gets me is “Dancing” by Elisa. It’s such a stunning song, and no one really knows the artist, so it’s nice to [showcase] her in that way. She’s incredible. But the reason I chose it, music aside, is because of the lyrics… they resonate so much. It’s a very powerful, vulnerable, eye-opening song. I love it so much. And I’m so glad I get to sing it! I mean, as with all these songs… I never thought I’d get a chance to sing [them] in public, so… I’m glad it all worked out. (laughs).

Amid all these cabaret shenanigans, you’re also wrapping up your journey with Kim. As you come closer to the end of the road, what would you say is the biggest lesson she’s taught you?

Fuck! I knew that question might be coming! Damn! That’s hard.

Can I tell you a secret that I haven’t told anyone else yet? I’m writing a book. I know! All four people that buy it are going to love it. (laughs). I honestly wanted to start [properly documenting] this journey, because I have learned a lot... and also I just love writing so much. Leo just bought me a Mac so I can type. I have a few other [writing] projects in the works that I’ve been going back and forth with… but I’m really excited to get this [book] out and share my story in that way.

But the biggest thing Kim has taught me? This is going to be the most wanky answer ever, but she gave me the ability to love myself truly for who I am — beyond my abilities as a performer. Truly, for who I am and the people I have around me and the choices I make in life… and the ability to forgive myself if I ever fuck up… which, honestly, I do constantly, doesn’t everyone?

The ability to be at peace with my decisions... to be at peace with living alone…

Because it’s hard. I haven’t seen my husband since the week before Thanksgiving, and I won’t see him again until after closing… around the 17th of January. It’s hard living apart.

I truly find it hard to make friends sometimes, and I find it hard to adapt to living in a city that I may not exactly be the easiest [to live in] at times, but she’s taught me to always come back to the center and remind myself of what’s really important. And gosh, it makes life so much easier! And when I say completely accepting myself for who I am, I mean that physically as well.

The change that my body went through, and my skin, and my face and everything… It [took] such a huge toll on my body. I can’t tell you how crazy it was to go through that, period… and then on top of it all, to take on this massive role of Kim… I’m really proud of myself, and I don’t say that often.

And what Kim taught me [initially] in London is to filter out who I surround myself with in life. I used to be, like, Ten-Chance Sally — I used to give everybody a second, third, fourth, chance — and now, I’m like No-Chance Sally (laughs). If I have a gut instinct that you may not be a good person and then you prove me right, buh-bye. I have people in my life who do love me and who I’d do anything for [that] I don’t have time to waste on people who use me. No excuses. You give yourself what you deserve.

But this [idea] works both ways as well. Like, for me, that doesn’t mean toxic people… but it may mean a glass of wine, a dog, a nice, new purse, and good people who love me. Again, good people are paramount... I can’t say that’s enough... and I’m so lucky to have mine. For sure.

In that same vein, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from doing these cabarets?

Oh, my goodness. That people are incredible. [As a performer], you may think you have to be in this massive, megahit Broadway musical — honestly, like Les Miz or Miss Saigon — but at the end of the day, people just want to hear good music and have a good time… and they want to be told — and be captivated by — a good story. And, again, what’s really special about this [evening] that makes it different from what I’m doing in Saigon is that I’m telling my story. That’s been really special.

And then, in more general terms, it’s taught me pacing. Like, my first show was shit. I was racing through everything just ‘cause I was nervous.. I almost fell on my ass… I cut, like, 15 minutes off my time. It taught me to stand firm. It taught me patience and it taught me grace. It taught me so much. And as I continue, it’s still teaching me things! (laughs). It’s exciting! I’m excited to take it to the U.K. [on January 28th at the Jazz Café] and see what more I can find out about myself!

As we mentioned in our intro, with all that’s been going on for you in 2017, you’ve certainly had quite the whirlwind year. As you take stock of all that’s happened for you in the past 365 days, what are three things you wish for yourself in 2018? 

Oooh! That’s a good one! Let’s see…

I wish for patience… I don’t have that. I always try to find it at Whole Foods and I never can. They’re always out of organic patience. (laughs).

I wish for the strength to do things that I’m too scared to do… like take a freakin’ dance class. That terrifies me.

And I also wish to continue to meet people that inspire me and to strengthen the relationships I have with my friends and loved ones. I haven’t seen my friends from London in a year and a half. I miss them so much. ‘Cause I’m so lucky to have these people in my life. I wouldn’t be here without them. And my parents, too.

Can I add a fourth one? I want to see my family more. It’s really hard being away from my family… and my in-laws as well. We’re all separated… they’re on the other side of the world.

So, those are the big ones I wish for myself… but honestly, if we were to continue talking here, I could come up with forty more. (laughs) I could come up with so much because I’ve learned so much. I’m very appreciative. I’ve been a lucky, lucky girl.

Eva Noblezada: Girl No More returns to the Green Room 42 at the Yotel (570 Tenth Ave.) on January 10th, preceding dates in London at the end of the month, and subsequent concerts at venues throughout the UK and NYC come Spring. For more information, visit www.thegreenroom42.com, or follow Eva’s blog at www.livevamaria.com. 

Connected Post:

Interview: Eva Noblezada on Starring in ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Miss Saigon’, and Why It’s Important to Share a Message of Love and Acceptance

By Jose Solis

Eva Noblezada’s overnight stardom seems to be the kind of story that inspires musicals. After being spotted at the National High School Musical Theater Awards, she was handpicked by the producers of a London Miss Saigon revival to play leading lady Kim. Quite an achievement for a young actress making her professional debut in one of the most beloved contemporary musicals in the West End. With sudden stardom also came great notices as Noblezada proved to be the real deal. After finishing a successful run of Saigon, which is set to transfer to Broadway in 2017, Eva was cast as Eponine in the West End production of Les Miserables. Having played parts in the two most prominent works by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, makes it a no-brainer to see Eva listed among the prominent performers set to pay tribute to the musical theatre legends at The New York Pops Annual Gala on May 2. We had the opportunity to speak to Eva during her first week of performances in Les Miserables, and were captivated by her eloquence, passion and intelligence as she shared insight on her craft, playing Kim and Eponine, and her upcoming stint on Broadway. Do you remember the first time you encountered …Read more

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