Jason Cannon remembers seeing Stevie Wonder sing “Superstition” on “Sesame Street” with the Muppets when he was growing up and starting to form the soundtrack of his life.
“It’s the music I grew up with. I started late and had to catch up,” said Cannon, who is one of the creators of Florida Studio Theater’s cabaret show ‘A Place. in the Sun: A Tribute to Stevie Wonder,” which he wrote with Richard Hopkins and Sarah Durham.
The production is a celebration of an artist whose career spans over 60 years. At 13, Wonder became the youngest artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 list with his song “Fingertips,” leading him to a string of hits and breakthrough albums.
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“Stevie Wonder has often been a precursor in terms of sounds. It plays pretty much everything, but gravitates to keyboard-style stuff that can be programmed to make different sounds,” Cannon said. “It is woven into our culture and our consciousness.”
The production comes in the year that marks the 50th anniversary of his album “Talking Book,” which featured the songs “You Are the Sunshine Of My Life,” “Superstition” and “You and I (We Can Conquer the World).” .
Just four years later, he released his double album ‘Songs in the Key of Life’, which includes ‘Sir Duke’, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ and ‘Village Ghetto Land’.
Other hits from her long career featured on the show include “My Cherie Amour”, “Ebony and Ivory”, “If You Really Love Me”, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, “Higher Ground”, “Part Time Lover” and “All in Love is Fair”.
“There is so much range. So many different styles and sounds,” Cannon said. “His music is truly timeless and it’s its own genre. What is truly telling is how many contemporary artists still reach out to him. He’s guested on so many people’s albums. He discovered Andra Day and brought her out of obscurity.
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The trailblazing artist recorded for Berry Gordy’s Motown for over 60 years before leaving the label. During this period, he expressed his rage at a variety of social issues in his music and used royalties to advance many causes, such as food banks.
Catherine Randazzo directs the production which features Joshua Pyram, Ben Senneff and Hannah Taylor, with musical support from pianist Sean Holland and drummer Marcus James. Daren Server is the musical director and Jim Prosser created the arrangements.
Pyram and Seneff, making their FST debuts, play guys who share their love of Wonder’s music from different perspectives, Cannon said. “One guy is the fun facts nerd who would win all the trivia contests. The other is more deeply attached. He understands Stevie through the lyrics, which makes for a great interaction between them.
Cannon worked at FST for about a decade, mostly as a director, playwright and teacher, before leaving to start his own publishing company, Ibis Books. During his tenure at the FST, he never had the opportunity to explore the cabaret shows that the theater regularly creates.
He floated an idea about the Funk Brothers and the Motown sound, but after visiting the Motown Hitsville United States Detroit museum and exploring more, he began to focus the show on Wonder’s music, which was so much a part of his own life.
“I’ve always been a fan. It’s been on my running playlists,” he said. “I karaoke. This deep dive into his music has only deepened my appreciation for him.
“A place in the sun -: a tribute to Stevie Wonder¨
Created by Jason Cannon, Richard Hopkins and Sarah Durham. Directed by Catherine Randazzo. From November 16 to March 26. Florida Studio Theater Goldstein Cabaret, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. 941-366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org