By Matt Smith
“I’ve been so many places in my life and time / I’ve sung a lot of songs and I’ve made some bad rhymes / I’ve acted out my life on stages / With ten thousand people watching / But we’re alone now and I’m singing this song for you.”
Following a record-breaking 19-week run of her knockout 2017 cabaret debut, Girl No More, the feisty and fiery Eva Noblezada is back, in all her giggly glory, at the Green Room 42—the birthplace of her resplendent concert career—with a brand-new batch of tunes in a deliciously vibrant and new extravaganza: Ballad of a Broadway Twenty-Something.
Though the evening, given its title, may suggest a slew of sad and somber selections, the set is not at all limited to the titular term. Fusing jazz, pop and musical theater favorites, the woman of the hour skillfully chronicles her meteoritic rise from fresh-faced Broadway baby to established, identifiable community name, while highlighting all the “funny, sad and f*cked up moments” along the way. And though she asserts concurrent rehearsals and commitments for her current Broadway gig may reduce her to “a deer in headlights prancing around onstage in a leopard jumpsuit,” the subsequent 60 minutes help solidify the truth: on the whole, quite contrarily, she hits it out of the park.
The repertoire, for one, is colorful and eclectic. Unsurprisingly, a handful of “greatest hits” from the last go-around are given a deserved reprise, including Noblezada’s tributes to Amy Winehouse and Frank Sinatra, as does her singular D-Eva Medley, a diversified homage to all the Main Stem roles she’d play if she had the chance, this time revamped with nods to Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Phantom of the Opera. Among the additional highlights in the sophomore set, which spans songs that made up her childhood, songs that influenced her musical style, and songs that just plain empower and inspire, are a stripped-down version of Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” attributed to any and all former lovers she’s had, and a tender, soothing “Dancing on My Own,” originally by Robyn, for those who’ve felt alone and lost within the boisterous, bustling crowd.
As was the case in her debut, the atmosphere is kept lighthearted and loose from the start; Noblezada unabashedly releases her silly side and displays an expert balance of classy and (lovingly) crude, from playfully pestering her pianist Rodney Bush to indulging in a few drinks—and encouraging her audience to do the same—to letting her potty mouth run unapologetically throughout.
But it’s her exceptional ability to command, connect and relate with an audience that really defines her act for what it is, and truly sets her apart as an artist in the medium. Amid jokes involving Jean Valjean, a few loving jabs at American theater audiences, and a ROFL recreation of her “worst audition ever,” she’ll switch gears and sucker-punch on a dime—all within the same hour-long show, and with equal wattage of humor and heart.
Sure, with her self-acknowledged naiveté and her free, open and unstructured approach to the evening, the patter may seem disjointed and uneven at times, her emphatic zeal for performing certain songs, at points overriding the opportunity to fully connect them to her stories, but when she is in the zone, she’s in the zone, honey—and her commendably resolute laser-focus and palpable passion for what she speaks about will no doubt have you equally sucked in from the start.
Taking a cue from her opening lyric, “Last year, we all were strangers/ this year we’re lifelong friends,” Noblezada gets cozy and comfortable with the crowd, ultimately encouraging patrons to not give in to societal pressure—“make the best decision for you and only you”—while divulging details of her own tumultuous personal battle regarding coming to terms with those ideals.
“Ballads don’t always have to be depressing,” she explains. “Ballads don’t have to just be the songs that make you cry. Ballads should be a full circle experience . . . a journey [encompassing] a range of emotions, allowing you to come into tune with yourself through the experience of the song.”
And with that description, you come to realize that the “ballad” of the title is, in fact, not a ballad in the traditional sense at all; it’s, rather, a metaphor for her journey, the highlights and lowlights, which are outlined throughout the evening, which capitalize on the idea that you are in control, and the word can be defined, as it irrefutably is for her, as whatever you want it to be. She’s been up and down and over and out in many instances along the way, but she’s undeniably back on top, back in the race, riding high and soaking it all in for what it’s worth.
And in that sense, both in a professional context of the performance and a personal context of her cross-country theatrical adventure, the evening, like her story, is not a ballad at all. It’s a rip-roarin’, throw-caution-to-the-wind party in the fullest sense of the word. And clearly, Noblezada’s having the time of her life.
Eva Noblezada: Ballad of a Broadway Twenty-Something played the Green Room 42 at the Yotel (570 Tenth Avenue, at 42nd Street) on March 31, and will return to the venue on April 14. For tickets and/or more information, please visit www.thegreenroom42.com