Lupita Nyong’o in ‘Eclipsed’ rooted 6 years ago at Yale

Eclipsed : Tony Nominees Lupita Nyong'o, Saycon Sengbloh and Pascale Armand (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Eclipsed: Tony nominees Lupita Nyong’o, Saycon Sengbloh and Pascale Armand (Photo by Joan Marcus)

When the 2016 Tony nominations were announced, they displayed something that the 2016 Academy Awards did not: diversity. While the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag went viral on social media, artists of color celebrated dozens of Tony nominations. Eclipsed was one of those productions, which was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Pascale Armand and Saycon Sengbloh) and Best Direction of a Play (Lieshl Tommy). When rolling out spoke exclusively with several people involved with the production, they seemed to have one common thread for the success of Eclipsed at the Public Theater first and then on Broadway: actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Writer Danai Gurira and director Liesl Tommy first met Nyong’o when she was earning her Masters of Fine Arts at Yale School of Drama. “She was the understudy. She was a student there and she was the understudy for the Girl. Now that she is a big star and people started asking her what she wanted to do, this is the only play that she said she wanted to work on,” Tommy explained. She also reflected on the experience of having the show handpicked by an Academy Award winner. “It was amazing because not only did she say ‘this is the play I want to work on’ but also ‘this is the director I want to work with.’ ”

Producer Alia Jones-Harvey discussed how special it is for this type of show to be on Broadway: “I think what’s so powerful about this time period and Lupita making this the play that she wanted to make her Broadway debut in is that her notoriety and fame carried this forward to Broadway … her place in history right now makes it ideal that she would say this is the piece that I want to bring to Broadway.”

The production, which focuses on the lives of women in Liberia during the civil war from 1999-2003, impacts the audience emotionally in a unique way. Tommy shared an experience of inspiration from early on in the production. She said, “One of the first weeks of previews two elderly African-American women were sitting in the front row … they drove up from Georgia to see the show last night and they loved it so much that they went out and brought a ticket for the next night because they didn’t know when the next time that they would get a chance to see something like that on Broadway, or anywhere actually, and they were so overwhelmed and proud … they were just so proud of us.”

Sometimes, dreams come true quickly, but more often than not, hundreds of hours of hard work have been put in for a common goal. With Eclipsed, the work of many has resulted in six Tony nominations. If you dream of seeing Eclipsed, do so by Sunday, June 19, 2016, the final performance.

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