As shows in which to make your West End debut go, the revival of Miss Saigon, 25 years after theatre’s most famous helicopter first landed in London, could be among the most high profile ever. Expectations for the show were as high as, well, a US army chopper circling Saigon.
The announcement that the lead role of Kim, a teenager who falls in love with an American GI only to see him ripped away from her with just a promise to hold on to for comfort, would go to 18-year-old American Eva Noblezada, who has no prior professional experience, left some theatre fans wondering whether she could cope with the pressure.
If you ever have the chance to meet her, you’ll find that beneath the exterior of a normal teenager lurks a performer with understated maturity beyond her years.
Put her in a room with Filipino pop star Rachelle Ann Go, though, and you can expect more giggles and squeals than from a 12-year-old at a One Direction concert.
Though Go is a pop star and actress with a clutch of gold and platinum selling albums, she’s equally as excited about her West End debut. For her it marks a very different turn as she swaps previous musical theatre outings in Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Tarzan for the role of scantily clad club girl Gigi, a change that scared her even though she was pushed to audition by one of Miss Saigon’s most famous stars, as we found out…
How are you feeling about making your West End debuts?
[Squeals of glee]
Noblezada: Rachelle and I both feel very blessed. I feel very grateful to the Filipino community. I’m not from the Philippines, but my Dad is. To have that support from that community… They’re very big supporters of the show.
Go: After the show at the stage door all the Filipinos are waiting for us. It’s amazing how they show their love and support for everyone here.
Eva, you’re making your professional stage debut in one of the most high profile roles in the West End this year…
Noblezada: It didn’t really hit me until the first preview to be honest. I think I underestimated it. I’m glad my expectations came just from me and not from what the media said this experience would be. It’s an experience that I want to experience for myself with these people. It’s so intimate backstage. With this cast it’s so magical. Everybody in this theatre has a vital role in this production and Cameron [Mackintosh] and his team are doing more than you could possibly ask for.
How are you finding being away from home?
Go: At first it was so hard. Even in the Philippines I always have my Mum around to help me. Here, my first day was really really hard. I didn’t know how to do laundry [laughs]! I can say after two months being here, I’m so proud of myself. I know how to cook! I feel I’ve grown already after two months as an artist and as a person.
What do you think people love about Miss Saigon?
Noblezada: I think I speak for the cast when I say we don’t want audiences to come in and say “That was a really pretty show.” That would be the last thing we would want them to say. We want them walking out thinking about it a week later. We want them to be bawling at the end of the show. With that there has to be grittiness and there has to be a raw, organic perspective that’s pulled from each of the characters. Every ensemble role there’s a grime and a dirt to it because we are representing real stories.
When did you first encounter Miss Saigon?
Noblezada: My aunty was actually one of the original cover Kims on Broadway. I was in sixth grade and I remember her telling me about it. I watched a few of the clips on YouTube. I never really got into it, but it was one of those roles that thought “That’s a special role that I can connect to and I’ll put it at the back of my mind.”
Go: I watched it in Canada in 2010. When I heard about the audition I didn’t want to go because I was too scared. When Lea Salonga [the Olivier and Tony Award-winning actress who originated the role of Kim] told me to try…
Wow, Lea Salonga told you to try!
Go: That’s why I auditioned, because of her. She was so happy when she finally got the news that I became part of this.
How did it feel when Lea told you to audition?
Go: I felt pressure because I know I can’t say no to her. When I finally decided I had to go for it I didn’t tell anyone but Miss Lea Salonga and my family.
Noblezada: That’s amazing.
How is this different to what you’ve done in the past?
Go: I’m a pop singer in the Philippines. It’s very different compared to theatre. The music. The voice that I use. The crowd. When you do theatre you get different responses every night.
Noblezada: I did a lot of theatre growing up. For me it was never for the applause, it was always for the effect it had on the people. That’s why I think one of my favourite moments in the show is [SPOILER ALERT] the death scene. I love the gap between the last line and when the curtain falls because you hear the sniffles in the audience. That means we’ve all done our jobs.
There’s a special vibe in the theatre because people are rooting for you, people want to leave with a story rather than a CD. It’s special, you hold onto it for the rest of your life.
What have you been doing with your spare time in London?
Noblezada: Cycling through the city at night is so much fun. I was scared at first, but five nights later and it’s the most magical feeling.
Go: Shopping is so good!
Noblezada: Car boot!
Noblezada: We love it. Why pay £15 when you could pay 50p? I found this vintage teapot that looked rustic and oriental. It had flowers on the side. I got a fresh pair of roses and I put them in there. Someone said “Where did you get that, Urban Outfitters?” Car boot! You’ve got to have the eye.
Go: It’s a Filipino thing.
Noblezada: We’re bargain hunters. Go hard or go home. We don’t want you to think that we’re ragged. Rachelle and I love shopping in general, but car boot is the extra thing.
What plans do you have for after Miss Saigon?
Go: I can’t answer that right now. A lot of things can happen for sure, but as of now I don’t want to think about the future, I just want to enjoy the moment.
Noblezada: Like Rachelle said, I want to live every day and cherish every second because it’s going to go by so fast.