INTERVIEW WITH “MISS SAIGON” STAR EVA NOBLEZADA

EVA NOBLEZADA IS A GIRL NO MORE.

When she was just 17, Noblezada landed the coveted role of Kim in Miss Saigon after a casting director heard her sing at the 2013 National High School Musical Theatre Awards (a.k.a the Jimmy Awards). Less than five years later, the now 21-year-old star is in the midst of wrapping up her truly sensational and Tony-nominated run in the Broadway revival of the musical (which closes January 14).

As if that’s not enough, Noblezada is also kicking off her 2018 with the final performances of her acclaimed solo concert, “Girl No More.” For the Filipino/Mexican-American singer, alternating between a Broadway stage and an intimate concert venue (NYC’s Green Room 42) have culminated in her dreams of becoming both a musical theater actor and a solo musician coming true.

I chatted with Noblezada as she reflected on her time in Saigon, what to expect from her solo concerts, her recent marriage, what she plans to do next, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: Miss Saigon closes this month. Looking back at the show’s Broadway run, was there a specific performance that was your favorite?

EVA NOBLEZADA: No favorites. Just a lot of happy memories on and offstage. Opening night was special. Having my family and fiancé (at the time) in the audience and seeing their faces during bows was a heartfelt and incredible moment. I’ll never forget it! But doing the show day to day – even when it did seem like a grind – is just special in general. We have so many laughs!

What are your plans after the show closes? Where and when can your fans come to see you next?

I can’t say, as I’m not too sure. All I know is I’m excited about the little break I get. I’m excited to get away and revitalize myself!

Before the revival came to Broadway, you starred in the West End production of Saigon. What did you find to be the biggest differences between your experiences with this show in London and in New York?

I find the audiences different. Good different! In England, stage door sometimes isn’t a thing! So that was a change here, having gates and large crowds! Other than that, I find it’s really similar.

Since its 1989 debut, Miss Saigon has been revered as a contemporary musical theater classic. What do you think it is about this show that has captivated so many millions of people worldwide for the past nearly three decades?

Miss Saigon is a timeless story. It can be put in any backdrop of culture or setting and it’d still be beautiful. Also, you listen to the incredible music and that alone is a show! It breaks people’s hearts and transforms the environment with romance and passion … and lots of belting.

You also played a short run as Éponine in the West End production of Les Misérables. What is it about the music of Claude-Michel Schönberg that continues to draw you to his musicals?

Eight months isn’t too short! Well what’s not to love? His music in inspiring. Not to mention, I’ve wanted to play Eponine since I was a little girl.

In May 2016, you made your Carnegie Hall debut by performing “The Movie In My Mind” alongside Lea Salonga, who originated the role of Kim. How influential was Salonga when you were discovering your own interpretation of this iconic and complex character? And what’s the best advice that she ever gave you?

What a day to remember! I never saw Lea. I wasn’t even born! And I didn’t want to watch her Kim in fear that I would unconsciously take things from her brilliant performance. I started with a fresh page. No pre-conceptions. Nothing. Just the music, script and incredible cast next to me to help guide my young Kim through the ropes. Lea is legendary. Not only her voice but in character. What’s amazing about Lea is that she knows exactly how it is to be thrust into this role. Sometimes I have questions and just text her and she’s so honest. She really is an inspiration and idol.

You got married this past November. Congratulations! What has been the biggest highlight of newlywed life so far?

Thank you! I’m the luckiest woman alive! Just having him in my life. Even though a lot of the relationship is long distance. Our time together, even if not physically, is special and gets better every day. He’s an incredible, incredible person.

What was the defining moment in your life when you realized you wanted to pursue being a stage actor as a career?

I can’t say defining, but as a young girl I never shut up. I was always singing and wanting to perform for people!

Miss Saigon marked your Broadway debut, for which you received a Tony Award nomination. What did this type of industry recognition mean to you?

The Tonys was a crazy time. I learned so much more than I thought possible. The recognition for the show was more important for me. The day of course was special. Honestly, I wasn’t harnessing energy in winning. I was there to enjoy a day that I never thought possible in celebration of an amazing cast and the mini career I had made for myself.

On your nights off from Miss Saigon, you’ve been performing your solo concert, “Girl No More,” at The Green Room 42. Where does this concert’s name come from?

It is cheesy! But I just thought, “Hey, there are a lot that people don’t know about me.” It kind of stuck out.

What aspects of yourself as a performer are you able to display in this concert format that fans of yours might not have seen in Saigon?

Everything! I’m a character in Saigon. I’m playing a role that isn’t Eva. At my concert, I’m Eva. I’m myself. I sing whatever I want to sing and say whatever I want to say. They’re two different freedoms I can express on the Broadway stage and on a small stage. Both are important and both I’m in love with.

In “Girl No More” (which has been extended regularly since its fall 2017 debut), you sing quite a wide range of music. You cover artists like Frank Sinatra and Amy Winehouse and sing the signature songs of musical theater characters such as Elphaba, Sally Bowles, and Yentl, to name a few. How did you go about curating the set list for this show?

I had SO much fun putting together this set list. It was so easy too! I sat down with my brilliant Musical Director, Rodney, and continued to add song after song that I remember singing in my closet as a teenager. And every time I get to sing it, it fills me with so much joy!

Has “Girl No More” inspired you to want to release your own solo music? If so, what would that sound like and when can your fans expect to be able to hear/purchase it?

Yes and no. When I do release my own music, it’ll be when I have the time to. I am desperate to start a new chapter in my life.

Who are some of your biggest influences as both a solo vocalist and a musical theater performer?

Sutton Foster. My family. Amy Winehouse. And whoever I work with!

There have been long-gestating rumors that a film adaptation of Miss Saigon is in the works. Aside from yourself, who are some actors that you would like to see play Kim on screen?

I don’t care who it is. I will say this – there are too many beautiful Asian actors that don’t need a “name” to be in it. It needs to be someone who can tell the story honestly, as her own, and sing the shit out of it.

What are your musical theater dream roles?

Off the top of my head? Jeez. I would love to do something like Chicago – or play a man or something.

Thank you so much, Eva! I was so blown away by your performance in Saigon and I truly can’t wait to see what you do next. Is there anything that you’d like to add that we didn’t discuss?

Thanks so much for taking the time! I would like to add, for anyone out there who is aspiring to be an actor/performer, being on Broadway will not define you. Know exactly who the hell you are. Your biggest strength will be filtering the bullshit (this includes people) who will want to shape you and change you into someone you’re not. Know who you are. Don’t be afraid to say no. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Take care of your body. Put people in your life who really love/tough love you. And come see Saigon!


Miss SaigonCLICK HERE to purchase tickets to see Eva Noblezada in Miss Saigon, now through January 14 only!

And CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to Eva’s solo concert, “Girl No More.”

Originally published on PopBytes

ZZ WARD SHOWCASES HER DEBUT ALBUM IN NYC

In 2004, producer Danger Mouse gained notoriety when he decided to release a free viral album that married contemporary hip-hop to classic rock.

As bold as it was experimental, The Grey Album took the a cappella vocals of Jay’Z’s The Black Album and mashed them up with instrumentals created from a variety of samples from The Beatles’ 1968 classic The White Album. The result was a richly layered compilation of tracks that not only complimented their respective genres, but also blurred the line between them to create a refreshingly original sound. And despite appeals from The Beatles’ copyright holders to take it down, The Grey Album went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed (even taking the #1 spot on Entertainment Weekly’s list of best albums of 2004) and influential albums of the new millennium.

Since The Grey Album’s release, more and more artists have opted to pay homage to music’s earlier days by blending their own sounds with those of decades past. Indie artists such as Camera Obscura and She & Him mix their Lite FM-ready folk-tinged sound with that of 1960s girl groups and nostalgic doo-wop. In 2006, Christina Aguilera released Back To Basics, an album that combined her pop-star-of-today persona with both that of a flapper and a WW II-era pin-up girl. The following year, British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse exploded onto the scene with her international smash single, “Rehab.” Full of soul, slick jazz and sass, Winehouse masterfully blended the defining elements of Motown with the attitude of contemporary hip-hop. Her success inspired a whole wave of “new vintage” musicians such as Adele, whose album, 21, has remained on the Top 20 Billboard chart eighty-two weeks after its release.

The latest entry in this parade of husky-voiced chanteuses is Pennsylvania-born ZZ Ward. Confident, aggressive and sexy, Ward’s music goes down as smoothly as the last shot of Jameson at the end of the night. Her self-described “dirty blues with beats” signature sound should answer any question about how a Dr. Dre-produced Joss Stone song would resonate.

On October 16th, Ward will be releasing her first album, Til The Casket Drops (via Hollywood Records). And earlier this month, the singer released a 4-track EP to give listeners a taste of what to expect from her eagerly anticipated debut. These two releases come following a busy summer in which she toured across the country with Fitz & The Tantrums and Allen Stone.

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending a showcase that Ward put on at New York City’s singer/songwriter hot-spot Joe’s Pub. Gearing up to the release of Til The Casket Drops, the set list was comprised of a generous sampling of the album’s offerings.

Immediately getting the audience pumped up, Ward opened the show with her upcoming record’s title track. A stomping love song marinated in retro flavors, “Til The Casket Drops” found Ward soulfully pledging her lifelong commitment to her partner.

“You asked me how long I’d stay by your side, so I answered with only just one reply,” Ward sang, building up to the song’s  warm, smoky chorus. “Til the casket drops, til my dying day, til my heartbeat stops, til my legs just break.”

On “Criminal,” Ward fused sultry nightclub jazz with ‘90s R&B in a way that would make you believe that Shirley Bassey and Lauryn Hill somehow had a lovechild. It’s basically what the James Bond theme Alicia Keys recorded (“Another Way To Die”) should have sounded like had it not been a collaboration with rocker Jack White.

Other standout selections from the evening included “Charlie Ain’t Home,” a cheeky modern response to Etta James’ “Waiting For Charlie To Come Home,” the somber and defeated break-up ballad “Last Love Song,” and the soaring and anthemic “Home,” which had the audience belting out the words to a song most were hearing for the very first time.

Yet no song had the crowd on its feet more than the one Ward played during her encore, “Blue Eyes Blind.” Clearly the track with the most mainstream radio potential from Til The Casket Drops, “Blue Eyes Blind” is an upbeat feel-good song that could easily do for Ward what “Mercy” did for Duffy. Showcasing the singer’s thick-as-honey voice and brazen swagger, this is a song that Ward will no doubt be closing her shows with for a long time to come.

With Til The Casket Drops, ZZ Ward has created an album that is as gorgeous as it is unique. It’s a record that will surely be remembered as one of the strongest debuts of the year.

Originally published on PopBytes

SARA BAREILLES PLAYS CENTRAL PARK (CONCERT REVIEW)

by ALEX NAGORSKI

I’ve been to quite a few concerts this summer and looking back, it’s funny to think about the differences in the crowds.

At Britney Spears, there were gay men in glittery eyeshadow and booty shorts all around me. At Jack’s Mannequin and Guster, the audience consisted of suburban white kids with backwards baseball caps, flip-flops and far too many popped collars. And at Sara Bareilles’ sold out show last night at Central Park’s outdoor Rumsey Playfield venue, the crowd was comprised entirely of hipsters in thrift store-purchased 500 Days of Summer-inspired floral print dresses and PBR-stained moccasins.

“How many of you are you listening to the show outside of the venue?” Sara yelled into her microphone. “This one’s for you!” she proclaimed as she started beating her tambourine and eased into an immaculate cover of Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man.”

The experience of a Sara Bareilles show is unlike any other concert I’ve been to. This is of course in large part due to the fact that Bareilles is a hypnotist of sorts who is able to manipulate the full spectrum of her audience’s emotions. While interacting with the crowd, she bursts with wit, sarcasm and dry humor. But when she breaks into song, her lyrics tell agonizing stories of loss and pain.

For example: one minute Sara will be singing the devastating “Breathe Again” (you know, the song that pretends its orchestration is not a carbon copy of the Titanic score), and the next minute she’ll be introducing what’s on deck by saying, “This song’s for those assholes who think they’re better than you. The ones who are like, ‘oh Sara, you drink too much,’ and you’re just like ‘FUCK YOU, MAN!’” Oh, and if you’re wondering what “this song” she’s referring to is, it’s “Basketcase” – a ballad with lyrics raw enough to be served as a tartare. Talk about emotional rollercoaster. Geesh.

But don’t get me wrong. Not all of Sara’s songs will have you reaching for razor blades. Throughout the duration of her 90-minute set, she sprinkled in animated upbeat tracks like the bouncy “Uncharted” the anthem-of-spontaneous-living, “Vegas,” and a funky cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” She also played bluesy-reworked versions of “Come Round Soon” and “Bottle It Up,” which enhanced the songs’ jazz undertones and flared them into smoky nightclub tunes to puff your cigar to on the dimly lit set of your own personal noir film.

During her acapella performance of “Gravity,” Sara allowed her truly stunning voice to take center stage. Even the drunk dude behind me (who was later escorted away by security during “Love Song” for being too belligerent…seriously) found a way to stop falling on strangers and be moved by Sara’s hauntingly beautiful voice. Sara really has the type of major pipes that few other contemporary female singer/songwriters can rival.

As part of her encore, Sara played a new track by the title, “Beautiful Girl.” Inspired by the tough experiences that some younger girls in her family are currently facing (as well as her own former issues), the song found the chanteuse plucking away at her ukulele with Jason Mraz-ish fervor.

While the message of “Beautiful Girl” is very much on par with the theme of self-empowerment that’s taken over the charts recently (i.e. P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect” and Selena Gomez’ “Who Says”), its lyrics make “Firework” fizzle out and completely abort “Born This Way.”

“So before you trade in your summer skin for those high heel shoes to make him want to be with you, let me remind you one more time that just maybe you’re beautiful, but you can’t see / So why don’t you just trust me they’ll see it too, you beautiful girl, you?” Sara gorgeously sang. Could a new album already be in the works?

To close the show, Sara played “Let The Rain,” my personal favorite track off of her #1 album, last fall’s Kaleidoscope Heart. If you haven’t heard this song, open the iTunes store and buy it right now. Seriously. If you don’t like it, then I think you and I should see other people.

And if you can, be sure to catch Sara on the remainder of her fall tour, now through the end of October. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Originally published on MuuMuse