Musician and theatre artist Ben Senneff makes his FST debut with the theatre’s latest Cabaret, A Place in the Sun: A Tribute to Stevie Wonder. This high-energy salute to the music legend is packed with more than two dozen of Wonder’s biggest hits, including “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “Superstition,” and “Isn’t She Lovely?” When Senneff discovered the magic of Stevie Wonder, he became a devoted fan of Wonder’s passion, creativity, curiosity, and, of course, undeniable talent.
We sat down with Ben to talk about his personal connection to Wonder’s music, his favorite song in A Place in the Sun, and what he likes to do when he’s not onstage.
What does Stevie Wonder’s music mean to you?
When I listen to Stevie Wonder’s music, all I can think of is joy. Even in his more melancholy songs, there’s still this overwhelming sense of joy and playfulness. His passion for crafting meaningful melodies and exploring new and interesting directions through harmony and rhythm never fail to raise my serotonin levels.
How has Stevie Wonder’s personal story and career inspired you?
It took me a while to get around to Stevie Wonder’s music. It just wasn’t what my parents played in the car, although I can perfectly recite any Bon Jovi song for you. As I got older and was getting more and more into jazz piano, every teacher, friend, and colleague was telling me the exact same thing: “You’ve GOTTA listen to Stevie Wonder!” Even the artists I was listening to at the time were all saying in interviews that they were heavily inspired by Stevie Wonder’s music.
I’ll never forget the day I sat in my room and listened to Songs in the Key of Life All. Day. Nonstop. I finally understood the reason for his impact on so many of my musician friends and the artists I admired at the time. It’s the goal of many performers to be respected and revered by the general public as much as by their fellow musicians and performers. Stevie Wonder is a prime example of that.
What excites you most about this show?
Singing and playing with a band! What could be more fun than that? Also, the show is all Stevie Wonder music, so I’m pretty much going to be in heaven on that stage.
What is the biggest challenge of this show?
I think the biggest challenge—and fun thing—for me is playing music and performing with other people. I often play piano and sing by myself, so getting to play with a band will definitely take some time to get used to.
What song in A Place in the Sun do you connect most with and why?
“You and I” from his album Talking Book. The harmony takes you on a journey unlike any other love song. There’s also this synthesizer that comes in at the beginning, which gives the song a cosmic vibe. It’s almost like the love that he’s feeling in the song is alien. It’s like his love is so true and awe-inspiring that there’s no way it came from earth—it has to be divine or extraterrestrial intervention. That’s so cool.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Some other musical inspirations for me are Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, and Sara Bareilles. Oh, and Barry Manilow. I think he’s the best. Also, in my spare time you can find me around a piano, geeking out about music theory with friends, or intensely studying Japanese.
A Place in the Sun: A Tribute to Stevie Wonder is now playing in FST’s Goldstein Cabaret. For tickets and more information, click here.
Header Image: Ben Senneff. Photo by John Jones.