Former Northwest School of the Arts student is now up against Bette Midler for a Tony Award

Eva Noblezada at the Broadway Theatre in New York in March.
Eva Noblezada at the Broadway Theatre in New York in March. NYT

Charlotte native Eva Noblezada – who famously left Northwest School of the Arts to take the lead role in West End’s production of “Miss Saigon” in London – has earned her first Tony Award nomination at age 21, for Broadway’s revival of the same musical.

She was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her star turn as Kim, a Vietnamese bar girl who falls in love with a departing American soldier in 1975, during the fall of Saigon to the Viet Cong.

The Tony nominations were announced Tuesday morning.

“I found out about my nomination this morning by my publicist, Lisa Goldberg, calling me and waking me up by screaming in my ear, ‘You got it!’ ” Noblezada said in a statement. “It was amazing and I feel so overwhelmed with love and especially love for my cast and the show. They deserve all the recognition.”

As a 17-year-old NWSA senior, Noblezada was chosen by famed West End producer Cameron Mackintosh to star in his much-vaunted revival of “Miss Saigon”; she opened it in London to raves in 2014. Noblezada followed that up by playing Eponine in Mackintosh’s London version of “Les Miserables.”

Eva Noblezada and Kwang Ho Hong from the 2014 production of “Miss Saigon” in London. Matthew Murphy

She opened “Miss Saigon” on Broadway this past winter, again to rave reviews. On Tuesday, the show also received a nomination for Best Revival of a Musical.

“Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” led the field with 12 nominations, while “Hello, Dolly!” scored 10.

In the Best Actress in a Musical race, Noblezada (her name is pronounced “EE-vah KNOW-blay-ZAH-dah, by the way) is in some exalted company – she’ll compete against Tony winners Christine Ebersole (“War Paint”), Patti LuPone (“War Paint”) and Bette Midler (“Hello, Dolly!”). Rounding out the category was another newcomer who made a headturning Broadway debut: Denée Benton, in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”

“I’m really honored to be up against these incredible women,” Noblezada said via email, through her publicist.

Her inclusion came as a surprise to some pundits.

Ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, The Hollywood Reporter’s chief theater critic, David Rooney, wrote in an analysis piece on Monday: “I think newcomer Eva Noblezada deserves attention for ‘Miss Saigon,’ though if she’s rubbing shoulders in the lead-actress-in-a-musical group with royalty like Bette Midler, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, she should just enjoy being along for the ride.”

And now that the field is set, Midler is the heavy favorite. “The reviews were nearly unanimous in their praise” for Midler, New York Times theater reporter Michael Paulson wrote, “despite some concerns about the quality of her singing voice; audiences have been worshipful and are paying top dollar to see her (premium seats are being sold for $748).”

Still, the nomination is an enormous achievement for someone who just a few years ago forewent her high school diploma to pursue her theatrical dreams, leaving NWSA a few months shy of graduation to do “Miss Saigon” in London – where she would go on to win the prize for Best Actress in a Musical from Whatsonstage.com.

Eva Noblezada, shown in a file photo at age 16, performing as Maria in Northwest School of the Arts’ production of “West Side Story.” Annette Calud

“My parents knew this was what I wanted to do,” she said in a 2016 interview with the Observer. “They had (accepted) the idea that I might not want to go to college and spend tens of thousands of dollars to learn the repertoire every other musical student has. I told my father that at 14. I said, “What if I want to go to New York after high school and be a waitress and audition and scrape along until I get something?’ 

The Tony Awards ceremony is set for Sunday, June 11, at Radio City Musical Hall in New York City. Actor Kevin Spacey will host the CBS telecast.

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Twitter: @theodenjanes