“Waitress” isn’t your typical, easily digested Broadway fluff, but people who love that kind of entertainment, according to Jisel Soliel Ayon, won’t be disappointed when the national touring production of the Sara Bareilles/Jessie Nelson musical comes to Proctors for four shows Friday through Sunday.
“We love those Broadway shows that are fantastical and upbeat and light-hearted, and this show has all of that, but it also gets really real and really human,” said Ayon, who plays the lead character, Jenna, a waitress who longs to escape her small town and loveless marriage. “This show also takes you to low places. It gets very human and sad, but then it does lift you up. You’ll start crying while you’re laughing, and you’ll start laughing while you’re crying.”
Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, “Waitress” had its New York premiere at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in April of 2016 after a tryout run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. Nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score, “Waitress” began its national tour in 2017. Ayon joined the tour as Jenna in September of 2021.
“There are so many things to like about this show, and I did see it when the first tour came to Los Angeles,” said Ayon, a 2019 graduate of Cal State-Northridge. “I loved it, but being a woman of color I didn’t necessarily see myself in the lead role. If there is a caucasian in the lead, I kind of figure the role is not for me. That’s the dialogue I have going on in my head. ‘This is a great show, but it’s not something I will ever do.’ Well, that’s not the way you want to feel.
“As an actor I’ve learned to audition for things even if I don’t think I have a chance of getting the part. You don’t want to take yourself out of the equation and get shut out of an opportunity. You want the producers to tell you that. But I tell myself that I could be the person who changes their mind.”
Described in her Broadway World biography as a “statuesque cocktail of African American and Latino ferocity with a sugary soprano sound,” Ayon did indeed change some minds. She already had some gigs lined up by the time she graduated early from Cal State-Northridge in December of 2019, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit two months later, putting her career on hold. She got busy again in the spring and summer of 2021, playing Cosette in “Les Miserables” for two months at The Rev Theatre Company in Auburn, New York, and then joining the cast of “Guys and Dolls” and “Footloose,” both at the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy, Utah.
“I graduated early just in time to have the world shut down,” said Ayon. “I had been booked through August of 2020. I was ready to go, and then things stopped. It was discouraging.”
The national tour of “Waitress” has also experienced COVID issues.
“We had it running through our cast a little bit, but we’re done with it and hopefully that will be the worst,” said Ayon.
“We’re thinking our herd immunity should be pretty good by now.”
Ayon wasn’t always set on a career in musical theater. She started her collegiate life at Cal State-Fullerton studying speech pathology.
“I come from kind of a musical family and was always singing and performing, but I always thought it was a hobby,” she said. “My parents raised me to be very rational. ‘What made me think I would stand out in some way in the theater?’ So I was going to be a speech pathologist, but after two years I changed my major and transferred to Cal State-Northridge.”
But not before getting a pep talk from a drama professor at Fullerton.
“I thought why not try out for a musical, and I got the part,” remembered Ayon. “Then I had a talk with my advisor at Fullerton about speech therapy and he scared me. He told me not to expect to have any extracurricular activities for the next two years. I thought to myself. ‘Can I live without doing any theater for two or three years?’
“So I went to the person who was my mentor in theater, and she gave me a vote of confidence. She said how she tells very few people that a career in theater is something they should be doing. But she said there are some, a handful, that she has advised to go for it in the theater, and I was one of them. Then, the next thing she told me was to transfer to Cal State-Northridge.”
Musical theater, Ayon will insist, has been a big part of her life since before she was born.
“My mother told that while I was in the womb, she went out and bought ‘Mary Poppins,’ ‘The Sound of Music,’ ‘Hello Dolly!’ ‘My Fair Lady’ and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,’ ” said Ayon, laughing. “So I grew up with those classic Broadway staples. And then my mom and I had a tradition of going to see ‘Wicked’ every time it was in LA. That’s the musical I really carried through my childhood.”
She still thinks of Los Angeles as her home.
“I’ve been on the road so much, and that’s where my parents are, so when I need to go home and re-organize, that’s where I go,” she said. “My goal is to look for an apartment in New York in the near future. That will be my home soon.”
Confetti’s ‘No Exit’
Opening Friday at the Albany Masonic Hall and running for two weekends will be a Confetti Stage production of “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre.
Adapted by Paul Bowles from the French story, the Confetti Stage production is being directed by Joe Plock.
The story is about three characters who are locked in a room in hell with each other for eternity. When it was first produced in the U.S. in 1946, theater critic Stark Young hailed it as “a phenomenon of the modern theater,” that should be seen “whether you like it or not.”
Making up the Confetti Stage cast are Vincent James Lounello as Cradeau, David Zwierankin as the Bellhop, Jennifer Van Iderstyne as Inez and Rachel Leigh Head as Estelle.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $95.50-$25.50
MORE INFO: Visit www.proctors.org or call (518) 346-6204
WHERE: Confetti Stage at the Albany Masonic Lodge, 67 Corning Place, Albany
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through March 6; 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: Call (518) 460-1167 or visit www.confettistage.org