‘Waitress’ to serve as opener for Clark State PAC season

Rising star plays lead role in Tony Award-nominated musical.

It’s the story as timeless as show business itself – the young actress going for the small part unexpectedly rising to the lead role. Jisel Soleil Ayon is living that dream onstage and in real life.

Local audiences can see a star rising when Ayon takes on the lead role of Jenna for the National Broadway Tour of the Tony Award-nominated musical “Waitress,” which opens the Clark State Performing Arts Center’s 2021-2022 season at 8 p.m. Saturday.

“Waitress” has charmed audiences since its 2015 Broadway debut. Ayon sees its appeal being a show anybody can identify with.

“One of the most beautiful parts is each person in the audience can find themselves in these characters. It’s why people keep coming back to ‘Waitress,’” she said.

But the story also doesn’t follow the typical path one may expect it to take.

“It’s got so much heart, hope and friendship,” Ayon said. “There is a love story but it’s not a trope of boy meets girl, it’s more messy than that but it’s the love between friends, so maybe people can relate and feel good.”

Ayon brought something relatable when it came to “Waitress” auditions. She originally went for an ensemble part. The actress who played Jenna in the tour prior to the pandemic shutting shows down wasn’t interested in continuing.

Ayon didn’t even know she was up for the role, just as an understudy or with the ensemble. It was a call from her agent confirming she would be Jenna in the lead that changed her life.

“I could not believe it, even now being in costume,” she said. “I saw this when it first toured and now I turn around and I’m looking at the set.”

Ayon and the cast and crew are in Springfield teching the show, a show business term for preparing it for the tour with the actors, crew, props and sets.

What’s more, Ayon is particularly proud to be the first woman of color to play Jenna in a major production of “Waitress.” Being half Black and half Mexican, she recalls going to the theater and not seeing many women like herself, and this is a chance to change that, although she wants to represent women in general.

“This is about the strength of a woman trying to follow her dreams,” she said.

While opening shows are often emotional, the Springfield audience can witness how this fresh performer brings the energy and maybe a few other emotions. The tour will go through June, but Springfield will always have a special place for Ayon.

“I won’t have the words. I’ll be crying happy, excited tears, but it won’t be real until the first time the curtain opens and I am out there and hear the laughs from the audience. That will be so magical.”

Tickets are still available for “Waitress.” Clark State requires masks be worn in the PAC to attend this performance.

Go to the PAC’s website for more information.


What: Waitress, National Broadway Tour

Where: Clark State Performing Arts Center, 300 South Fountain Ave., Springfield

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $30-70 (plus fees)

More info: 937-328-3874 or go to pac.clarkstate.edu/shows/2