At 17, Eva Noblezada got her big break: At the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, where she performed "With You" from Ghost: The Musical, one of the show's producers noticed her and promptly helped her secure an audition for a new London production of Miss Saigon. Noblezada won the role of tragic heroine Kim -- originated in 1989 by Lea Salonga, who went on to become the first Asian woman to win a Tony Award. As the Vietnam musical returns to Broadway (March 23), its female lead, now 20, looks poised for a similar star-is-born moment.
Noblezada, who attended the Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, N.C., moved to New York instead of pursuing college. "Being an Asian-American with Mexican blood, it's difficult to not get typecast," she admits. "But I wanted to put my foot in the door, in my own way."
Learning from Lea
"I wasn't even a fetus when Lea Salonga played Kim!" jokes Noblezada. Since assuming the role, the ingénue has received advice from the theater vet (who most recently appeared in Allegiance). Noblezada hopes to follow in Salonga's footsteps as Eponine in Les Misérables.
While doing research for the show, Noblezada realized how little she knew about the Vietnam War. "It was almost glazed over in school," she says. "It's relatable to what's going on in the world right now -- we've got a refugee scene, when Kim is on the run from the Viet Cong."
Noblezada admits she's so behind on popular music it's "embarrassing," but has a stable of pop heroes. "I love Beyoncé, Rihanna," she says. "I warm up to Sia's 'Chandelier.' I get inspiration from everywhere."
This article originally appeared in the April 1 issue of Billboard.