Broadway star Zachary Noah Piser has withdrawn from the leading role in the musical “Tiananmen: A New Musical,” just weeks before its debut in Phoenix, Arizona.
Piser’s withdrawal announcement: The Chinese American actor took to Instagram to announce his withdrawal last Friday without offering any explanations. The announcement came as the actor was reportedly on a concert tour in China.
Speculations about Piser’s decision: Although Piser’s manager Dave Brenner told CNN that “creative difference” caused the actor to quit the Tiananmen musical, it is speculated that pressure from Chinese authorities might have played a role.
Wu’er Kaixi, a protest leader who worked on the musical as a conceiver and creative consultant, believes the actor departed due to fear.
“I believe…the reason for his withdrawal is not ‘creative difference,’ rather, simply fear. He was given pressure by Chinese authorities,” Kaixi said. “After 30 some years of censoring any information about Tiananmen, the Chinese government today is still extremely afraid of mentioning the atrocity they conducted.”
A day before Piser’s withdrawal, he was quoted on Playbill saying, “I am zproud to bring this powerful story to life on stage. Having helped develop this piece since 2015 makes originating this role that much more meaningful.”
About the musical: The Tiananmen musical, which is directed by Darren Lee with Music Director Kevin White, is about the bloody 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that resulted in hundreds — if not thousands — of deaths. According to a press release, the musical is “a vital reminder of the fragility of human rights and the importance of bravery and self-determination in the face of totalitarianism.”
Jason Rose, the musical’s lead producer, confirmed that the show will proceed as planned from Oct. 4 to 29 at The Phoenix Theatre Company.
“This story needs to be told and will be told. Censorship and pressure will not carry the day. Our celebration of bravery for lovers of freedom will,” Rose told CNN.
About Piser: Piser previously made Broadway history for becoming the first Asian American actor to take on the title role of Evan full-time in “Dear Evan Hansen.” Last year, he starred in the Broadway musical “KPOP.”
Piser’s recent announcement highlights the complexities Western celebrities face when dealing with political sensitivities related to China.