Zachary Piser has been a theatre kid ever since his parents took him to see Fiddler on the Roof in his hometown San Francisco when he was five years old.
“My parents always claim that at the end of that show I was screaming for an encore, and they knew at that point I had caught the bug,” he said.
It marked the beginning of a path that has led him to Toronto, where he is the alternate lead in Mirvish’s production of Dear Evan Hansen, playing the eponymous character on Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Dear Evan Hansen won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as five other Tonys.
Even though Piser has loved theatre since he was a child, he only really began performing near the end of his time in high school. He enjoyed the experience so much that he studied both biology and theatre when he attended Northwestern University.
“When I started doing theatre I just realized there’s really no other activity that gave me that sense of belonging,” Piser said of his decision to study it in university.” That incredible feeling you get when you’re in the limelight and you’re doing something that you love, I realized that I was never going to find that anywhere else.”
By the time Piser graduated, he knew he couldn’t let all of his training and passion go to waste without at least giving acting a real shot. So he moved to New York City, found a place in Queens and a job to help him pay the bills, and began auditioning for roles. He got one role, then a few more, but there was one part he kept auditioning for.
“I have loved Dear Evan Hansen since I first heard the score. As soon as I heard (Benj) Pasek and (Justin) Paul’s music, I knew it was something that was super special and spectacular,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve auditioned for the show and for Evan many times, and it just so happened that the stars aligned for this production, and it just so happened I was able to get this position. I still can’t believe that I’m here.”
This is Piser’s first time in Toronto and his second time in Canada, after a fishing trip to Vancouver when he was younger. He says he has loved his time here so far, especially the food and the friendliness of the people.
“The people here are just so warm and open and they greet you. Strangers greet you on the street with a smile,” he said.
At the time of this interview in mid-April, Piser hadn’t yet been involved with the local Jewish community. But it’s always been a constant in his life, from Hebrew school as a child to Hillel at Northwestern to his family’s shul in Oakland where his mother, a Chinese immigrant who converted, is the mashgiach. So it’s important for him to stay connected to Judaism.
“It’s always a conversation I have with my dad of how to continue practicing as a Jew because, you know, life can get busy and it sometimes can get difficult to find a community and find a time to go to synagogue,” he said. “But thank God for Facetime… because every week we always Facetime each other and we light the Shabbat candles together.”
All in all, Piser is thrilled with his experience playing Evan Hansen in Toronto so far.
“A dream come true doesn’t even describe how I feel about it. This is one of those roles, it is so rare that you find a show and a role like this, where it is so rich in terms of the material… to tell Evan’s story, which is a story that has become so beloved by so many people around the world, it is beyond anything that I can comprehend or even explain. It’s just a such a dream come true and it’s such an incredible experience,” he said.
Dear Evan Hansen runs until July 21 at the Royal Alexander Theatre in Toronto. www.mirvish.com