A Father and Son Connection
On May 17, Dear Evan Hansen gets a new leading Evan: Zachary Noah Piser, the first Asian-American actor to step into the role full time. Zach played the original Evan alternate in the Toronto premiere, and since November 2019 has shared the role on Broadway.
Zach will be joined on stage by Manoel Felciano, who is playing Larry Murphy, the man who becomes Evan’s father figure. Felciano is a Tony Award nominee for his performance as Tobias in the 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd.
Zach and Manoel recently sat down via Zoom to talk about their roles, returning to Broadway – and bird calls.
You play a father figure and a son whose father is not around. How much of your own lives did you bring to the rehearsal room to develop that relationship?
Felciano I’ve played fathers before. But this is the first show where the parents are so fully developed and where both generations are treated with equal dignity and the writing is strong and they are three-dimensional throughout the show. That has given me a new perspective on parenting. Now I’m wondering, is my daughter going to turn into a Zoe? Is she going to want to date an Evan? [Laughs] That’s been moving to me. It’s also been wonderful to see young actors sing this incredible score.
Piser I don’t have kids. I have a dog. [Laughs] But my dad is the most classic and Jewish white boy from the Midwest. He’s so open-hearted. There are times in the show, especially in “To Break in a Glove,” when for some reason I get transported and I see my own dad. There are times when I have to think: You are on stage!
Without those connections on stage, it can be difficult to create a story. I think we have found ways that we can bring ourselves to these characters while still honoring the integrity of the show.
Felciano So often, we think the parent is the provider and the child receives things provided by the parent. But for anyone who has been a parent, you understand quickly that it’s symbiotic. I need things from my child just as she needs things from me.
Even when we were first in the rehearsal room, Zach gave me things that I needed as an actor because he had played his role before, and I was stepping into it knowing nothing. There was a role reversal there: The son was taking care of the dad. I was grateful for that.
How does it feel to be getting back on stage?
Piser That first day back at rehearsal was so magical, but there was also so much bubbling under the surface. We kept in touch during the pandemic, but didn’t completely know what other people were coming in with or had experienced. We all talked about how trauma can be channeled into our work, and now we were doing that thing we had been starving to do. It was very special.
Felciano There were times when I questioned whether or not I was going to act again, let alone act on Broadway again. One thing that was hard was that my daughter was too young before the pandemic to know what I did. She didn’t have an experience of seeing me in a show. That drove me.
What I wanted for her, selfishly perhaps, was to know what her dad did and be proud of her dad. Now she has heard me rehearse “To Break in a Glove,” which Larry sings, so often that she memorized all the lyrics. That’s probably not a lot of eight-year-old girls’ first musical theater song.
What’s something that people will be surprised to learn about you?
Piser My public high school had a bird-calling contest. If you won it, you went on “The David Letterman Show” and you performed the bird call. I did that for my junior and senior years. I went on the Letterman show and made ridiculous bird calls.
Also, my bar mitzvah theme was swimming because I thought I was going to be a professional swimmer. I am quite literally 5’ 5”, so it’s hilarious to think that I would grow to be a tall, lanky swimmer. I thought instead: I’ll use my lung support and go into singing.
Felciano I try to think of myself as an environmentally conscious person. Yet my guilty pleasure is the show “Drive to Survive” on Netflix. It’s about Formula 1 racing, one of the least environmentally conscious sports in the world. The soap opera that goes on is must-see TV. My wife and I are completely hooked on it.
Piser This is not surprising at all. [Laughs] That’s pretty nerdy, and that’s right for you.
Felciano My being nerdy is not a surprise.