Eva Noblezada at The Green Room 42. (Photo: Matthew Wexler)
By Matthew Wexler
I hung out with Tony Award nominee Eva Noblezada on Monday night. Or at least that’s what it felt like during her set at The Green Room 42, where she’s played 11 shows and has several more dates on the calendar (March 5 & 12, 7 p.m.). The informal evening, titled Girl No More, is a mash-up of musical theater and pop songs that strike a chord with Noblezada, and are smartly arranged by musical director/accompanist Rodney Bush.
Opening with “The Girl From Ipanema,” Noblezada slinked onto the stage in pink satin pants and a simple form-fitting black top, her hair cut short and less familiar for those who saw her highly-acclaimed appearance in the recent Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.
Her journey is the subject of most of her onstage dialogue as she recounts getting cast as “Kim” after being scouted at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards. But what most fans might not know is that her road to stardom was shadowed by nearly debilitating self-doubt and an eating disorder that plagued much of her run in the original London revival in 2014.
She speaks freely of her experiences and personal battles, often dropping f-bombs and other expletives that might raise an eyebrow of one who sees her as the character that brought her theatrical fame rather than the young woman she is growing into. Peppered among these stories are terrific vocals that affirm why producer Cameron Mackintosh was so captivated by her, knowing that she could put her own stamp on a role that catapulted Lea Salonga to stardom.
Noblezada is just as much a fan of the American Songbook as she is the Broadway catalog, as well as pop artists such as Jessie J. and Amy Winehouse. For my taste, her set was most successful when she stuck to musical theater, delivering a reflective “When I Look at You” from The Scarlet Pimpernel, “Let’s Be Bad” from the short-lived television series Smash, and a throw-down-the-gauntlet diva medley that included excerpts from Wicked, Cabaret, The Drowsy Chaperone and more.
In many ways, Girl No More feels like a healing process for Noblezada, who has grown up in the public eye and continues to overcome unrealistic industry standards regarding women’s body image. It’s a raw evening and one that needs a directorial eye if she’s interested in evolving the show into something with broader appeal. She’ll be making her Feinstein’s at the Nikko debut April 27 and 28 and I wonder if she’ll fine-tune her narrative to give it the arc and storytelling worthy of the voice behind it.
Noblezada, in spite of her five years in London and New York at the epicenter of Miss Saigon, has grown from a 17-year-old girl into a young, fiery woman. Married this fall to fellow actor Leo Roberts, her journey—both professionally as well as personally—is still just beginning.
I interviewed Noblezada in the spring of 2017 at the height of Miss Saigon’s return to Broadway and was struck by her forthright demeanor. I wish in the context of that conversation that I could have chatted with the woman and not the girl representing the show. My hunch is that she’d have a lot more to share that might transcend the coveted role she was hired to play. I’m not sure where Eva Noblezada is headed next. I hope casting directors widen the lens of who they think she is and see the woman, not the girl.