Jisel Soleil Ayon talks ‘Waitress’ and national tour debut

Jisel Soleil Ayon
Jisel Soleil Ayon in ‘Waitress.’
Jeremy Daniel

Just in time for the commencement of Women’s History Month, ‘Waitress’ will be hitting the stage at the Academy of Music on the Kimmel Cultural Campus. The show, which has an all-female creative team, features music and lyrics from singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, aka the mind behind ‘Love Song’ and ‘King of Anything’— just to name a few of her early 2000’s smash hits.

‘Waitress’ follows Jenna Hunterson, a baker and waitress in an abusive relationship with her husband, Earl. After deciding to follow her dreams and enter into a baking contest in a nearby county, Jenna makes major changes in her life—and also gets involved in an unexpected romance. Ultimately though, what she really finds is herself again.

California-native Jisel Soleil Ayon is taking on the lead role of Jenna in her national tour debut, and as a half Black and half Mexican actress, she tells Metro that she couldn’t be more proud to showcase the spirit of this uplifting musical. Ayon digs deeper into her role and what audiences can expect for ‘Waitress’ when it hits the stage in Philly.

Jisel Soleil Ayon
Jisel Soleil AyonJeremy Daniel

What stood out to you about this show and this role?

This show is a very special show. It just catches you in the heartstrings, and keeps people coming back over and over. It really has spirit, heart and soul. I auditioned for the ensemble understudy Jenna, and I was [just] hoping I would get cast—but I never thought I would get cast as Jenna, which is crazy. This role though, getting to play it, Jenna has got such an arc and such a huge span of her journey. She goes through every possible emotion in the show, so as an actor to tackle that is really amazing. And to carry the entire show… I don’t know the next time I’ll get that kind of experience. So, it’s really special.

Especially for your debut, I’m sure that’s surreal.

Oh yeah. I’m pretty young, too, so to have this be my national tour debut and really kind of the start of truly launching my career is unfathomable.

How would you describe your character, and what does she go through in the show?

[Jenna] is in an abusive relationship with her husband, and she is very unhappy and kind of stuck in her life. She’s forgotten about her dreams and forgotten about how to take care of herself, she’s been too busy taking care of everyone else. Through her friends and finding her inner strength that she has kind of lost sight of, she is able to dream again and to pursue those dreams and to fight for herself again. So, it’s circling around inner strength, and she has so much of it. She’s such a fighter and nothing can bring her down or keep her down, even though it seems like she is continuously stuck in the gutter. That I think is the beautiful part about her—how much of a fighter she is. She cares about her friends and her community very deeply, and she’s always choosing kindness and patience over anything else, which I think makes her a truly wonderful person.

How would you describe the music in the show?

It’s a pop folky sound that is Sara’s sound—so it’s kind of unique in the cannon of musical theater. I feel like a lot of contemporary musicals coming out right now are a lot of rock sounds. So to have a softer, floaty flipping from lower register to higher register, and to even have aspects of the yodels and stuff like that—I think that is so refreshing, and kind of a change of pace to what we’re seeing in the Broadway cannon right now. It’s beautiful with gorgeous harmonies. Sara Bareilles is a craftsman, a true craftsman with her music and she infuses the exact emotion that you’re supposed to feel in that moment to each song—I really don’t know how she did it, but she did. She knocked it out of the park with these songs, and they’re absolutely gorgeous and a pleasure to sing every night.

Jisel Soleil Ayon
David Socolar and Jisel Soleil Ayon in WaitressJeremy Daniel

Do you have any favorite songs to perform?

Just singing wise, ‘Everything Changes’, which is the second to last song in the show, is always one of my favorites to sing because it’s this really, really floaty piece and this very touching moment. The ensemble comes in to back up Jenna and [they] make these echoes…It’s just a beautiful, beautiful moment of music to sing and to hear. So, that’s the one for me right now…It truly is an ethereal sound that just kind of grows and swirls around and gets bigger in this gorgeous moment.

It sounds like this show can be very uplifting?

It’s funny because when you start to breakdown the basics, it sounds like it’s not a very uplifting show. But it is, it takes you to very low places so that you can be risen to very high places. So, you will feel all of the feelings. You will be taken to a low place, but that’s because you have to feel that low to feel the high as well. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cry laughing and laugh crying—all of the emotions you need to feel in the end. But it’s so beautiful because of it…You will leave with a very heartwarming feeling and you will honestly not want the show to end.

What else do you hope audiences take away from the show?

I want audiences to feel full, and to feel that they have been taken on a journey that has opened their eyes to the fact that not everything is black and white, and that you can experience more than one feeling at the same time. One of my favorite words in the English language is bittersweet because of that emotion coincide…We either think oh I’m happy or I’m sad, or I’m excited or I’m nervous, and those things are not necessarily a dichotomy—they work together. You can’t feel one without the other, so that’s a realization that is a beautiful part of life. It’s a little heavy when you’re thinking about going to a show, but that’s the thought I think it can evoke.

Jisel Soleil Ayon
Jisel Soleil Ayon and Michael R Douglass in WaitressJeremy Daniel

Waitress‘ is part of the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Broadway Series, and will be at the Academy of Music on the Kimmel Cultural Campus from March 29 to April 3.