Star of the Week: Saycon Sengbloh is a Leading Lady who can’t be Eclipsed


by Celeste Montaño

Saycon Sengbloh has made a career out of breaking barriers. For many years, the Broadway powerhouse was best known for being the first black woman to play Elphaba in Wicked. Now she’s starring in Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed, which holds the distinction of being the first show in Broadway history whose cast and creative team consists exclusively of women. What’s more, several of them are first- or second-generation Americans, and they all happen to be black women, which in some ways marks an even bigger achievement, since opportunities for women of color onstage and behind the scenes of Broadway are scarce.

But Eclipsed is by no means the first of Sengbloh’s roles to push the boundaries of musical theatre. In 2009, she played Sandra in Broadway’s first—and so far only—Afrobeat musical Fela!, inspired by Nigerian composer and activist Fela Kuti. She then went on to originate roles in Motown the Musical and Holler if Ya Hear Me, the latter of which featured music by rapper Tupac Shakur. All three productions are notable for introducing genres that are rarely heard on Broadway stages. In a recent interview with NBC, Sengbloh spoke of the range of music styles, saying, “I’m very proud to be a part of black people being presented in all of these various stages from hip hop to reggae to learning about civil war in Liberia to Motown to Fela.”

Her reference to the civil war in Liberia is, of course, in regard to the subject matter of Eclipsed, which follows a group of women who have been abducted by a commanding officer during the war. Though much of the hype surrounding the show has centered on Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, Sengbloh holds her own as Helena, often called “Wife Number One,” a character who is in a position to act as the mother figure of the group.

The dramatic non-singing role is a departure for Sengbloh, who is largely known on Broadway for her powerful vocals, but it’s also a role that hits close to home, since her father was born in Liberia.

A self-professed “flower child with a penchant for fashion and bright colors”, Sengbloh often performs and fundraises for causes in Liberia and she is currently involved in the Eclipsed campaign to bring 10,000 underprivileged girls to see the play.  

With every new show she performs in and every cause she volunteers with, it becomes increasingly clear that Saycon Sengbloh is making a difference in the world, both onstage and off.

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