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May 19, 2022 12:46 pm
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In First, Jewish Asian Actor Takes Lead Role in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ on Broadway

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Zachary Noah Piser (center) and the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Photo: Matthew Murphy/Dear Evan Hansen.

Jewish actor Zachary Noah Piser made history this week by becoming the first Asian-American actor to play the lead role in the award-winning Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” full-time.

Piser joined the production’s cast in March 2019 and most recently served as the alternate Evan Hansen. The California native took the stage on Tuesday at New York City’s Music Box Theatre as the show’s title character, which he will play until Aug. 7.

The role was originated on Broadway by Jewish Tony Award-winner Ben Platt, and also played in 2019 by 16-year-old Jewish actor Andrew Barth Feldman, who was the youngest talent to play Evan Hansen.

“Being the first Asian American actor to tell Evan’s story means everything to me, and I hope this milestone allows any and all AAPI folks to feel seen, heard, and valued,” Piser said in a statement. “And to start my run in May, a month dedicated to celebrating so many parts of my identity — AAPI Heritage, Jewish Heritage, and Mental Health Awareness — is the cherry on top!”

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“Dear Evan Hansen” is about a high school student with society anxiety, named Evan, who wants to connect with others his age but feels like an outsider and is overwhelmed by the hyper-connectivity of social media. After he writes a letter to himself that is mistaken for a fellow student’s suicide note, he lies about having a relationship with a deceased student to become closer to the boy’s family and gain popularity.

In a recent interview with Hey Alma, Piser said he grew up in a conservative Jewish home, attended Hebrew school, and remains very close to his native Jewish community and rabbi, who attended his opening night on Tuesday. The actor’s father is of Jewish Lithuanian descent and his mother, an immigrant from China, converted to Judaism before Piser was born.

He spoke about identifying as “Jasian: Jewish Asian,” as well as the similarities between Jewish and Asian cultures, and discussed representing two minority communities on Broadway amid a wave of hate crimes targeting both.

“I am just so honored to be able to represent all my intersecting communities in this show, a show that was originally written for an all-white cast, and it just so happens that I am Asian and Jewish, and I’m able to play this role,” he said. “So especially now, when being a Jew and/or being Asian feels like you have a target on your back, it means everything to me to be able to give some kind of voice to those communities … On an industry level, it also makes me more excited and hopeful that there will be ripple effects to open more doors for people with so many intersecting identities that also happen to magically overlap with mine.”

“The rising antisemitic and anti-Asian sentiments and violence do weigh on me,” he added. “And it’s less about me and worrying about my specific safety; I think about the other people in my life that I am worried about. I feel like I should be contacting them and saying, are you okay? Do you feel safe? Those kinds of things. Which makes me sad that I even just have to think about it in that way, but it’s the stone-cold truth of where we are currently.”

The Broadway show’s assistant director Miranda Cornell and cast member Nathan Levy are also Asian Jews.

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