Broadway star Zachary Noah Piser has unexpectedly pulled out of the leading role in a musical based on the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, just weeks before its premiere. Piser, who was born to a Chinese mother and an American father in California, made the announcement on August 25 while on a concert tour in China. The actor posted a brief signed statement on Instagram stating, “I have withdrawn from the musical Tiananmen,” without providing a reason for his decision.
Piser was set to play the main character in “Tiananmen: The New Musical,” which is scheduled to debut in Phoenix, Arizona on October 4. According to his other Instagram posts and Chinese state media reports, he made the announcement while performing Broadway hits in Shanghai.
His manager, Dave Brenner, told CNN that a “creative difference” led to Piser’s withdrawal from the musical. However, Piser himself expressed pride in bringing the powerful story to life on stage in an article published by Playbill just a day before his departure, stating that originating the role held significant meaning for him.
The Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, known as the June 4 incident in China, involved the Chinese communist regime’s military opening fire on unarmed pro-democracy protesters and citizens in Beijing after two months of mass demonstrations. The exact number of casualties remains disputed, though secret documents released by the UK government in 2017 suggest at least 10,000 people were killed.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has strictly censored discussions about the June 4 incident, and any commemoration or mention of the event can result in imprisonment. Cultural scholar Wu Zuolai, now living in the United States, argued that the CCP’s fear of refreshing painful memories and igniting anti-communist sentiment likely played a role in Piser’s decision to quit the musical. Wu raised questions about how Piser was able to perform in China at this time and whether external pressure or financial incentives influenced his withdrawal.
Hu Ping, honorary editor-in-chief of Beijing Spring magazine, echoed Wu’s concerns and reinforced the sensitivity of the June 4 incident for the CCP. He speculated that Piser had succumbed to pressure from the CCP and highlighted the challenges faced by Chinese individuals settled in the West who wish to express their views freely without repercussions.