Northwestern graduate cast as first Asian-American Evan Hansen in “Dear Evan Hansen”

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Source: Nathan Johnson

Zachary Noah Piser playing Evan Hansen in the Toronto production of “Dear Evan Hansen” where he is the alternate, being the first Asian-American actor to be cast as the role.

Eunice Lee, Reporter

Six-time Tony- and Grammy-winning Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen” captured the hearts of viewers around the world. For Zachary Noah Piser (Communication ’15), joining the show was a dream. But to also be cast as the first Asian-American lead and second actor of color of the musical, this Evan Hansen says “Words Fail.”

Cast as the alternate Evan Hansen for the Toronto production, Piser is making his second Broadway appearance just four years after he walked the stage at graduation. Coming from his Broadway debut as Boq in “Wicked” just months after senior year, Piser said this experience has been a “wild ride” and an “unexpected whirlwind of opportunities.”

Directed by Northwestern alum Michael Greif (Communication ’81), “Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of a high school senior looking for a way to fit in with his peers. Addressing the topics of mental health, family relationships and social media, the show has gained international praise, with a creative team including Benj Pasek and Justin Paul — a songwriting duo with work featured in “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”

“In terms of existing shows, Evan Hansen in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is my dream of all dreams,” Piser said. “You’re leading the show, and it’s a beautiful character that you get to track the trajectory of. That has been the tip top.”

Piser remembers his first time hearing about the show and said he instantly “fell in love” with the score, story and character, Evan. Now, playing this role, he said he has “lots of gratitude” for the education he recieved at Northwestern and the unwavering support of his parents.

Communication Prof. Amanda Dehnert said she is thrilled for her former student and that he deserves his success.

“It took him a while to develop confidence in himself as a performer,” Dehnert said. “He really put himself out there, and it was really exciting to see everything come together for him.”

Piser’s voice teacher at NU, Communication Prof. Melissa Foster, added that Piser is the “perfect Evan.”

After four years of weekly voice lessons, Foster said she and Piser are very close. She added he is vocally and emotionally ready for this thrilling, yet challenging role.

“The role of Evan Hansen is so difficult — he barely leaves the stage,” Foster said. “And it’s an extremely demanding acting role as well. It’s a show that connects so deeply with many people, but to do that, you need an Evan that is truly empathetic. I think Zach is the perfect person to be able do that.”

Beyond the theatrical reasons, Foster added that Piser as the first Evan of Asian descent and second actor of color is “incredibly significant.”

“As a person of color, I’m always extremely excited when I see another invisible barrier coming down,” Foster said. “I just love that it’s Zach, and I love that it’s happening.”

Foster is not alone. Piser commented that he has been receiving messages from fans saying how exciting it is to feel represented in the show.

“As a kid growing up looking very different and not having anyone who really looked like me on stage — because I’m a mix — I know exactly what that feels like to see someone on stage who is in the realm of looking like you and what that does for you,” Piser said. “So, to have that opportunity is just unbelievable, and I hope that I can give that feeling of encouragement to as many people as possible through this show.”

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