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Northwest School of Arts student cast in ‘Miss Saigon’ revival in London

Northwest School of the Arts senior Eva Noblezada will play a supporting role in the school’s fall musical in a few weeks – but in May, she’ll play the lead role in “Miss Saigon” under the West End’s bright lights.

The news broke in London Thursday night that Noblezada has been cast as Kim for the 25th anniversary revival of the popular musical.

She got the role after auditioning for the show’s producer, Cameron Mackintosh, who is famous for producing several shows including three of the longest-running: “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables” and “Cats.”

A publicist for Mackintosh said he was in Spain and unavailable for comment, but Mackintosh has told the U.K.’s “Daily Mail” that “Eva’s going to be our new Lea.”

He was referring to Lea Salonga, the woman who won a Tony Award for her Broadway portrayal of Kim in 1991.

“Miss Saigon” is the tragic love story of a teenage girl, Kim, who is orphaned by the Vietnam War, and Chris, an American GI. Mackintosh has said the West End revival set a record for single day of ticket sales in West End and Broadway history.

Noblezada’s rise to stardom happened in just the past few months. It began after she won the Blumey Award for best actress this May in Charlotte for her “Footloose” performance at Northwest. The Blumeys are the Charlotte-area’s version of the Tony Awards for high school students.

With the Blumey win, she advanced in July to the Jimmy Awards in New York City to compete with other high-schoolers on a national level. She was a runner-up and won a $2,500 scholarship.

One of her musical theater teachers, Bonnie Fraker, attended the Jimmys with Fraker’s friend Tara Rubin.

Rubin, a top casting agent for Broadway shows, was impressed with Noblezada, who sang “With You” from “Ghost,” a production Rubin had cast herself.

“She told me at the Jimmys, she said, ‘I’ve heard that song 500 times... and I’ve never heard it better,’ and she was really impressed,” Fraker said.

Fraker said she was glad her friend saw talent in Noblezada and hoped it would someday turn into an opportunity.

“I just didn’t know it would happen this quickly or be this big,” she said.

A couple of weeks later, Rubin flew Noblezada up for an audition.

“They put her on tape and sent it to Cameron Mackintosh in London, and he loved it,” Fraker said.

Noblezada returned to New York this fall to audition for him, and, “he cast her on the spot,” Fraker said.

A star at Northwest

Fraker said Noblezada will move to London with her mother in January, and teachers have said she will finish her high school credits from there but still be a Northwest graduate.

Noblezada has been a star at Northwest.

One of her musical theater teachers, Matt Hinson, recalled when she was in the sixth grade and wanted her solo in the middle school’s music review to be “The Wizard and I” from “Wicked.” He remembered thinking that once she sang it for him, he was going to have to assign her a less difficult song.

“She nailed it,” he said.

Two years ago, wanting to diversify her style, Hinson said she asked him to place her in a soprano range even though she’s an alto. Then she got the role of Maria in “West Side Story,” which Hinson called a classic soprano role.

Hinson said Noblezada has always wanted to sing songs from “Miss Saigon.”

“She’s always been in love with that music, and it’s totally her style,” he said.

Corey Mitchell, also one of her musical theater teachers, said she’s a versatile singer, actor and dancer.

“This is a discovery of one of the next major Broadway stars. She has the talent to have a real, true fan base,” he said.

Personal ties to show

Noblezada can savor the fact that she’s the first from Northwest to launch a Broadway-level career with a lead role before even finishing high school (say her musical theater teachers). But the role is also personal.

Her aunt, Annette Calud, was in the original “Miss Saigon” Broadway cast in the ensemble. After Salonga left, Calud got the lead role at age 27, which she performed for almost two years. She said she was Salonga’s first understudy.

“I get a lot of inspiration from her,” Noblezada said of her aunt in a previous Observer interview. Noblezada was reached Friday by the Observer but said she couldn’t comment without her agent, who could not be immediately reached.

Technically, Noblezada will be the third member of her family to perform in “Miss Saigon.” Calud said when she was babysitting her 3-year-old cousin while she was on Broadway, she took him to an audition for Kim’s little boy.

After seven callbacks, her cousin, Brian Baldomero, got the part. She played his mother when she later took on the role of Kim.

Calud, who now lives in Huntersville, said she is proud of her niece, and that getting to see her perform on opening night in the West End with other family members will be, literally, a dream come true.

Calud recalled taking Noblezada to New York City when she was 10 to see Broadway shows. Backstage at “The Lion King,” Noblezada met the girl who played Nala, who was also her age.

“I said, ‘You can play this role, Eva, you’re going to have an opening night on a Broadway stage, and I’m going to be there.’ And she laughed and was embarrassed a little, and I said, ‘I’m serious, I’m going to be there.’”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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