DETROIT – Waitress, the musical dramedy based off the 2007 film of the same name, features music and lyrics written by Sara Bareilles, who has played the lead role of Jenna several times throughout the show’s run on Broadway.
Now the show is making its way around the country with the apron passed on to newcomer Jisel Soleil Ayon who is tasked with singing the show’s challenging score nightly in front of audiences across the U.S. Here’s what she had to say before the diner opens up in Detroit:
What should we expect when Waitress makes its way to Detroit?
It’s basically about a waitress who is stuck in a life that she has found herself in. Life just happens to you and you look back and you’re like, “What? Where am I? and Who am I?” It’s about the power of finding your inner strength and your community of friends around you, and finding that dream that has died and the strength to pursue it again. It’s a journey of a lot of ups and downs. You will cry, you will laugh crying, cry laughing. It’s super heartwarming and I think you’re going to leave just really full.
What is it like playing Jenna as a woman of color, when she has traditionally not been?
I’ve had women of color reach out to me who are just very excited to see it and are very thankful that I’m representing. It’s almost like they can see a door that is opening for them, because growing up I didn’t have that representation. People typically ask if I saw myself in that role when I saw the show for the first time and my answer is no. I saw a white woman on the stage and I knew that it was typically cast as a white woman, so my brain didn’t make the connection that it was something I could do. So the fact that I’m taking the show around the country and they’re getting to see this when they usually might not have that opportunity is so amazing to me.
What was it like “opening up” for the first time?
It was super nerve-wracking because Jenna is in the entire show. She has maybe five minutes total offstage and the entire thing is two hours and 40 minutes. We joke that it’s props: the musical, there are props galore and everything is super specific. So putting it in front of an audience for the first time, my brain was filled with, “Get it right and don’t mess anything up!” It was a huge mixture of emotions and recently came full circle because Sara Bareillis came to see the show this past Friday, and the fact that I could perform it for her was very exciting.
What advice did Sara Bareillis give you about playing Jenna?
I met her in our first week of rehearsals. I shared with her my insecurities and worries about it. She said, “You should hear all the nice things people are saying behind your back.” That gave me the big boost that I’m doing something right. I was telling her, “I’m not you, I’m not Jessie Mueller, I’m not any of these big names who have played the role.” And she said, “You don’t have to be them and that’s the point. The fact that you are you is what’s going to make your Jenna special and amazing. You don’t have to be anybody else who has played the role. I’m not Shoshana Bean either, you know.” It was very comforting. It felt like she was giving me permission to bring myself to the role and that it will be enough, that it will be more than enough.
I actually heard about you through social media, do you think it’s playing a big role in the success of this tour?
Our big fans of Waitress are called “frequent pie-ers.” There are also people who, while they may not have ever seen the show, they love the music so much that they latch on to social media as the thing that connects them to the show. So I have tried to keep up a big presence on social media. I’ve reached 10,000 followers on TikTok. I’ve been making these niche comedy videos about the plot and characters of Waitress and the fans have found it. Because it’s so niche, they love it.
This is your first tour and you have a lot of single-show cities, how do you deal with it?
Just to be blatantly honest, it is hard. It’s a show one evening, get up in the morning, get back on the bus, travel, do the show, back on the bus, and travel again. There’s not really a lot of time to rest. And to do the job that we do with very little rest is hard. I hope that people in general give grace to touring actors because we are giving you 100% when we’re on 30% fuel. So giving ourselves grace and hopefully the audience giving us grace knowing that we’ve gone through so much to get to their city and bring them the show to give them our all, every single night.
What are you looking forward to in Detroit?
Well, I’ve never been and we have a cast member whose hometown is Detroit. We’re there for a week, which we rarely get to be in a city for a week. Our cast member is going to be our tour guide, so I’m definitely excited to see what Detroit has and just to be with Detroit audiences for a week.
Waitress plays at the Detroit Music Hall from March 13 through 20. Tickets are available at BroadwayInDetroit.com.