So much for that famous quotation from the world of sports: “Winning isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.”
Eva Noblezada’s experience at the 2013 Jimmy Awards offers a good rebuttal.
Last summer, the 17-year-old was a finalist for what are also known as The National High School Musical Theater Awards. Noblezada was hoping that she and a high school boy would each receive the $10,000 scholarship and award, named for James M. Nederlander, chairman of the Nederlander Organization who has been a producer of more than 100 Broadway attractions.
At her regional competition in North Carolina, Noblezada first sang a song from Footloose, the show in which she’d played the lead at the Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte. After the judges chose her as one of the finalists, she sang “With You” from Ghost. That was enough to have them select her as the winner of the regional competition. She received a Blumey Award — named for the Blumenthal Foundation that in 1992 built the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, where touring Broadway shows play.
Certainly Jon and Angie Noblezada, Eva’s parents, were glad that Tom Gabbard, president and CEO of Blumenthal Performing Arts, had jump-started the Jimmys in North Carolina. Says Angie, “We knew that Eva had received a gift from God when she was 4 years old and was singing every lyric from The Little Mermaid.”
Drones Jon, “I can’t tell you how many times I had to rewind that videotape.”
So the couple were committed to nurturing Eva’s talent. The family even moved from Albemarle County to Mecklenburg County, where The Northwest School of the Arts was located. “A church we liked was one reason,” Jon concedes, “but at least 50 percent of the reason was to give Eva better opportunities. We had to drive her 30 miles for seven years, but we didn’t care.”
Eva rewarded them by playing everything from Mayzie in Seussical, Jr. to Maria in West Side Story — all of which trained her for the Jimmys. Says Gabbard, “Her parents actually drove 10 hours to Manhattan. Had we known, we would have done what we could to have flown them all up there.”
Nevertheless, the notorious New York traffic didn’t keep the Noblezadas from arriving in time for Eva to join a whirlwind of weeklong activities. Then came Monday, July 1, 2013, when Eva and the other teens would appear at the Minskoff Theatre on the same Broadway stage that hosts The Lion King the rest of the week.
Usually, three boys and three girls are chosen for the final round, but this night turned out to be so competitive that the seven judges felt compelled to choose four girls — including Eva Noblezada.
“After we heard all four girls perform,” says Gabbard, “we thought Eva was going to win.”
She didn’t. Sara Lynn Marion from Fullerton, California, did.
“The Blumenthals were very upset,” reports Gabbard. “I told them, ‘These kids have performed in front of an incredible powerhouse of pros. No matter what the result was, it’s not blowing hot air to say that they’ve all won.’”
Says Angie, “When she didn’t win, we weren’t disappointed, for we accepted whatever God’s plan was for her.” It was a significant one. “A couple of weeks later, we got a call from Tara Rubin,” says Jon, citing the veteran casting agent of 42 Broadway productions — including Ghost.
“She’d been at the Jimmys,” Jon says, “and she was calling because she thought Eva might be a good candidate to play Kim in the upcoming revival of Miss Saigon in London.”
Says Angie, “So we drove back to New York right away. Eva had one audition, and then one callback.”
It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill callback. Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of the original Miss Saigon as well as this revival, was in attendance. “We didn’t even have to leave the theatre and wait for the phone call,” says Angie. “We were told right then and there that Eva had it.”
On January 9, daughter and mother went to London, where Eva would start preproduction on Miss Saigon. “I have two other kids, so I came back in February,” Angie says. “We knew that this year Eva would be moving away somewhere, but we assumed it would probably be to New York, because NYU was her first choice for college.”
Now the Noblezadas had to make plans to visit their daughter in London for her May 21 opening. “She’s finishing high school through a special arrangement and the internet,” says Jon.
Eva may be writing reports for her English teacher and hoping for a good grade, but many English critics have given her good grades for her performance in Miss Saigon.
“Its most notable feature is 18-year-old Eva Noblezada, who seems a remarkable find,” said Henry Hitchings in The Evening Standard — not to be confused with Dominic Maxwell’s assertion in The Times that she was “a sensational find.” Hitchings also called her “admirably poised” and that she showed “grace and vulnerability” as well as “a voice of piercing purity.”
Neil Norman in the Daily Express insisted that “Noblezada is a revelation in her professional debut as the emotional centre.” David Benedict in Variety opted to say that “Noblezada makes an astonishing stage debut. At 18, she has poise, power, and a superb voice throughout a seriously wide vocal range.”
While Michael Coveney for WhatsOnStage didn’t think the revival was up to the 1989 original, he did state that “in one area, though, it is its equal: in the casting of 18-year-old Eva Noblezada . . . whose astonishing voice is flawless in a wide register and whose acting is assured and touching.” When he commented on the “degree of sniveling around me in the last scene,” he added that he “was too busy marveling at the simplicity and grace of Noblezada’s performance to join in.”
Finally, Charles Spencer of The Telegraph wasn’t above stating that Noblezada’s “raw, deeply felt performance and soaring voice lend the show its heart. There were moments when she moved me to tears.”
Note to this year’s Jimmy Award contestants: Do not try to lose the competition on purpose.
Miss Saigon photo by Matthew Murphy.