BWW Interview: Eddie Noel talks Hurricane Maria, Becoming Emilio Estefan in ON YOUR FEET! The Musical Closing in Fort Worth
This week I got the opportunity to speak with Eddie Noel on the phone as he wraps up the final 2 weeks of the National Tour of ON YOUR FEET! The Musical, closing in Fort Worth April 10-14th. As the interview began, I was so pleased to find such an easygoing, humble, and joyful person on the other end of the line. Gratitude for the experience of being part of this show just flowed from him- I lost track of the number of times Noel called this opportunity a blessing.
Now, this kind of humility is often associated with people who are meek or quiet, but that's certainly not the case with Noel- he's as energetic and fun-loving as anyone you'd expect to be playing the dramatic role of Emilio Estefan. Through the course of our conversation, he told me about pursuing his dream after Hurricane Maria, landing a spot in ON YOUR FEET! and his dream roles in musical theatre.
Can you tell me a little about your background? I know you were with a Folklórico dance company in Puerto Rico before you began your acting career.
Yes, I was with a company called Gíbaro de Puerto Rico. I joined the company when I was 15 years old, and it wasn't until my 30's when I left the company. After Hurricane Maria on October 11, I moved to New York to pursue the dream and audition for this show-and I got it! It was a blessing. This week we're finishing the tour in Fort Worth so it's the closing of a chapter, but it's been one of the best years of my life.
How was your home, the people you knew, affected by Hurricane Maria?
They're okay now. During those first weeks my parents' house didn't have a lot of problems, just the ceiling and balcony. But my grandmother and a few uncles - their houses had water a foot deep even on their second floor. So, when the flood came down, we had to clean up all the mud and all the mess, so I was there doing all that. And of course, I was also just trying to survive- to keep doing art, but of course in that moment art wasn't a priority. My original plan was to move to New York in January 2018, but because of everything that happened, I knew that if I didn't move to New York immediately it would only get harder. Of course, you know how expensive New York is, so I called my cousin in New York and asked if I could sleep on her couch. As soon as I got there, I started working in a retail store. That was in October, and in January I was notified that there was an opening for On Your Feet! I had sent in a video from Puerto Rico back in April 2017, so they gave me a callback. My first callback was in New York in front of the entire creative team. It was kind of surreal. At that time I didn't get it, but I must have made an impression. I had a few more callbacks, the last of which was in front of Jerry Mitchell at the same time he was rehearsing Pretty Woman. A week later, I got the part. In two days I was in Iowa rehearsing, and in two weeks I started with the cast - May 3rd of 2018. I started in the ensemble covering all the male parts, and then I was playing the Dad, José Fajardo, for a few months, and since January I've been playing Emilio. It's been quite a journey.
That's amazing. Of course, I'm not happy that Maria happened, but it seems like the timing ended up working out for you.
Moving was always part of the plan but when that kind of stuff happens, you have to move on. I was working in Puerto Rico, but at the same time I did TV, I did radio, I did theatre. I wanted to do more, and I knew I could do more. It was a hard decision because you have your life and your family, and you're attached to so many things, but you have to say to yourself- Let's just try. What's the worst that can happen? You don't make it and you come back? With that mentality I went out - and I made it! And right now after I finish this show, I hope I get more offers, I'll audition more and go through the struggle- because I never really went through any of that- so this was a blessing for me to understand that I'm capable of doing this. I want to keep educating, studying, training, and doing more.
What has the transition from Puerto Rico to touring the entire country been like?
It's funny because in Puerto Rico for the last year, I was kind of a nomad already. I lived in Vega Baja, about 30-40 minutes outside of San Juan, where I worked. I always had a backpack in my car and I'd stay in friend's and family's houses more in San Juan than in my own house in Vega Baja. I basically did that for a year since my work was freelance and every day was different. Then when I moved to New York, I was on a couch, and now being on the road it's more of the same- except I just need to adapt more to the changing weather. Right now I just want to settle and have a home. I wouldn't mind doing another tour, but I'd at least like to have an apartment in New York. Live in New York for a year and make it happen, and if I have to move somewhere else like LA then I will do it. I don't have problems moving around but I want to have my own place outside of Puerto Rico. I mean Puerto Rico will always be my home- In my parents' house, I still have my own room. But New York is where I have to be right now.
Were you familiar with Miami Sound Machine and the story of the Estefans before you got this part?
I mean, you hear Conga all your life. When I saw the show on Broadway for the first time I thought, "Oh so that's a Gloria song... and that's another Gloria song." I also knew something happened to Gloria, but I never knew the details until I saw the show. It was a surprise for me, and of course after that I did the research and learned all about it. But when I saw the show I thought, "I could see myself doing this." I went to see the show because of Ektor Rivera, the one who used to play Emilio on Broadway. He's Puerto Rican and we used to work together a lot in Puerto Rico. I was very proud of him- he was a role model in so many ways. When I saw the show I was blown away. It's funny how the world conspired to bring us together onstage a few times. He came to replace Mauricio, the former Emilio, for a few months. Even on stage we'd look at each other and say, "Bro, we're doing this together." So it's really come full circle. Even now, when I got the part of Emilio, he wrote me and told me how proud he was. It's been amazing- sometimes we don't reflect on that. I've been grateful every day. Even before I go onstage, I think about how it's a blessing. It's a fun show, we have fun onstage- backstage, we have another show going on that you can't see, believe me! But we actually have fun and we feel like family. I know next week will be hard with the closing of the tour- some of these people have been here since Broadway. We had a long journey.
Do you feel like you can relate to your character, Emilio?
Definitely. Both of them [Gloria and Emilio] came from Cuba with dreams, with a purpose in life. They never want to compromise what they believe, what they wanted in life. And they had a dream, so they fought for it. In my case, yes I'm Puerto Rican, yes I'm a US citizen, of course I'm Latino, but in my case I'm not the Latino cliché. So, I know in different auditions where I'm struggling right now, they'll say, "Oh, you're too tall." "Oh, you don't look Latin." "You look white, but you have an accent." "You have an accent, but this character is white." And I struggle with all that but I know I have the talent. I know I have more to learn, but I know I can do it. I left the island to pursue the dream just like they did. And right now I'm doing it and I'm very grateful for it. And I know there's more to come and I need to fight the same way they fought. I'm a proud Puerto Rican, very proud Puerto Rican, and Latino in general. I am brining this message that everyone can relate to- not just the Latino community. Of course the Latino community can relate more, in the way we speak, in the way Abuela speaks- but, about the problems with the family, about the pursuing the dream- everyone can relate. It's not only a jukebox musical- of course you have great music, and you have 5 original members of Miami Sound Machine that play with us every night. So of course people will have a great time, but at the same time you have a great storyline about their lives. The script is written by Alex Dilenaris, the same guy from Birdman, so he's great and the way that it's written is amazing. And for us, as actors, its beautiful. We say the words and it just works.
How do you prepare to keep it fresh every night?
Every time before the show starts, I try to go to the first moment when I saw the show. The way I felt when I was getting ready to see the show, and feel that excitement, and the same way the people have never seen the show before. For most of them it's the first time seeing the show. They're there to have fun, or they're with their family, or because they love Gloria, but most of the people leave the theater with a lesson. For me, I say let's just educate, have fun, and go to that moment like the first time so I can feel excited about it. I also try to connect with everyone onstage before doing a show, because for some of us, we're coming to work and we only say hi onstage because we haven't seen each other all day. So, I try to connect with everyone so we can feel that family vibe, and just before the show starts I do my prayers and think about that moment I first saw the show, and how proud I am to be a Latino.
What's one or two of your dream roles, in any show?
Let me think... Scar from Lion King. I would LOVE to play the bad guy. I saw the show and thought, "Okay. I can do that. I would love to do that." Also, Jean Valjean from Les Misérables. And from In the Heights, I would love to play Nina's Dad, Kevin, when I'm a little older. His song Inutil is so beautiful.
Why should people go see On Your Feet!?
First of all, because people are going to relate in so many ways they're not going to expect. That's the main reason. Not only will they have fun, cry, dance, know more about Gloria, but they will relate with the show and maybe get out of the theater with another mindset, thinking a different way.
Be sure to check out ON YOUR FEET! at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, from April 10th - 14th.