This week Playbill catches up with Zachary Noah Piser, the original Evan Hansen alternate in the Toronto premiere of Dear Evan Hansen, who is currently sharing the role of Evan on Broadway through March 20. In the spring, Piser will step into the role full-time, becoming the first Asian-American actor to do so at Broadway's Music Box Theatre.
Piser has also been seen on Broadway as Boq in Wicked and Off-Broadway in Sweeney Todd, Adventurephile, and Mad Libs Live! as well as in regional productions of Row, The Heart of Rock & Roll, and Godspell.
What is your typical day like now?
I try to keep my mornings quiet, calm, and full of Scout (my puppy)! I'll have a nourishing breakfast, do my obligatory crossword/spelling bee/Wordle, and take care of any miscellaneous to-dos. Scout will keep me on a tight leash until I start prepping for the show around mid-afternoon. Then I'm hydrating, steaming, stretching, gently vocalizing, and all that jazz. I get to the Music Box a full hour before I get my cast and polo on. I love being an early-bird to the theatre because it helps me feel settled and relaxed before jumping into Evan's story. Then we do the thing! I end the day with a gentle warm down, a quiet check-in with my partner, some snuggles with Scout, and I always have to have something sweet (yogurt and berries, a cookie, or my favorite, a spoonful of vanilla almond butter).
How did it feel to be back in a rehearsal room the first day you and the Dear Evan Hansen company reassembled?
Overwhelming. Anxious. Magical. Our company was finally able to reunite and do the thing we'd been missing for the past two years, but we also knew that the tumultuous time we collectively experienced had changed each of us, and it could never really be the same as it was before March 12th, 2020.
Can you tell me a little about the logistics/decision that you're sharing the role of Evan for the next few weeks and then will come back to the role full-time this spring?
I’ll be taking on the role primarily in the next few weeks, and some of our amazing covers will also have the opportunity to perform, until Ben Levi Ross comes into the show on March 22nd for a limited eight-week run. Then I’ll take over full time (six performances a week) after that! I’m thrilled because I’ve been the Evan Alternate (performing at least two shows a week) since March 2019—both in Toronto and on Broadway. This show lives deep in my bones, and I'm so grateful to step fully into this iconic role. And, it’s so wonderful that we will be welcoming back so many familiar faces (like Ben and Sam Primack, who both started on Broadway before going on tour) to the Music Box.
What does it mean to you to become the first Asian-American actor to play the role of Evan full-time on Broadway?
Representation, to me, means seeing someone who looks like you on any stage or screen (Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theatre, community theatre, commercials, TV, film, and everything in between!), thereby making your body, your voice, and your heritage feel seen, heard, and valued. To be a part of that for all AAPI communities and generations means everything to me.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
One of my favorite messages DEH shares is that no matter how deep, how dark, or how alone you may feel, there is always hope for a better tomorrow. I can't tell you the number of times throughout the pandemic I thought, "All right, this has to be my lowest," whether it was because of loss of opportunity, loss of security, or the unthinkable, loss of life. At those moments, I would reach for Evan's final words in the show: "He'll keep going. He'll keep going until he sees the sun."
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
Come be safe with us! Sitting in a theatre feels like one of the safest places you can be right now. You've got to be double vaxxed (triple vaxxed in some theatres!) and masked to be allowed into our sacred spaces. After so many months of experiencing art and life virtually, there’s nothing quite like seeing a show live on stage with fellow audience members, particularly when it's a poignant show like Dear Evan Hansen. So, come and enjoy. We need you!
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I believe that change can only be achieved if folks at the top of the theatrical food chain are 1) willing to do the uncomfortable work of investigating their own hand in perpetuating racism, inequality, and injustice on macro and micro levels both in and out of their own buildings and 2) have trusted BIPOC colleagues on every level, but especially on their level, with whom the necessary discourse can be created. Without these two initial steps, I don't know if the real, lasting change that the theatrical community requires will be possible. But I'm hopeful!
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
We've all had to re-examine our definition of "success." Personally, prior to the pandemic, success felt exclusively related to my professional life: getting that job, making this connection, being asked to do that project or event, etc. During the pandemic, however, success rarely centered around my profession, but instead involved other parts of my life and identity. Sure, there were some big things, but it was mostly lots of small things: getting Scout to potty outside for the first time or teaching her how to roll-over, co-hosting a Purim hamantaschen Zoom class with my mom for my Bay Area congregation, reuniting with friends after months of quarantine, having a conversation entirely in Mandarin with my Nai Nai and Ye Ye, getting a haircut after eight months of massive cowlick overgrowths, officiating multiple friends' weddings, cooking a daring (or not so) meal with my partner, (not killing my partner). And, of course, any chance to perform, virtually or otherwise, felt like a special kind of success under the global circumstances. Would I want to live it again? No thank you. Did I learn to be a more resilient, open-minded person that is easier on himself? Yes (and still going).
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Stop AAPI Hate, Black Trans Travel Fund, NQAPIA, The Okra Project, Mazon, Send Chinatown Love, Broadway Advocacy Coalition, among many others. Reach out to me for more ideas! @zach_piser