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A Positive Light: Meet Madalyn McHugh of “A Place in the Sun”

February 15, 2023

Madalyn McHugh returns to FST this season for her fourth show at Sarasota’s Contemporary Theatre: A Place in the Sun – A Tribute to Stevie Wonder. In past FST productions, McHugh has brought the music of Carole King, Dolly Parton, and Alicia Keys to life onstage. This Season, she takes on the music of Stevie Wonder, performing some of Wonder’s top hits, including “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”

We sat down with Madalyn to talk about what makes Stevie Wonder’s music distinct, the song in the show she connects most with, and why she loves Cabaret as an art form.

A Place in the Sun is a musical celebration of Stevie Wonder’s legendary impact as a musical pioneer. What do you think makes Stevie Wonder stand out from other artists whose music spans several genres and styles?   

Stevie Wonder’s creative power is so magical and brilliant, and as a human, he is such a positive light. Stevie Wonder has the power to unite all people by creating music that is so incredibly relatable, you can’t help but fall in love with it. He understands the human soul and gives listeners the opportunity to feel close to him. He allows himself to be vulnerable and share his own experiences through song, which, in turn, allows his fans and listeners to feel like they are part of something bigger than just the music. He is an absolute legend and icon that will continue to reach all generations.

A Place in the Sun: A Tribute to Stevie Wonder marks your fourth production at FST. How does it feel to be back in Sarasota and performing for its audiences?

I am absolutely thrilled to be back at FST, which has become my “theatre home.” I always look forward to reuniting with the warm and familiar faces in the audience. I have met so many wonderful patrons of the theatre through the past few years who have been consistently uplifting and supportive. I am very blessed and grateful to be a part of the FST family.

Cabaret as an art form is very personal and involves having a direct connection with the audience. Are there any funny, surprising, or touching moments involving the audience from the run so far that you’d like to share?

Every night, the audience sings along to “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and it is such a touching moment because the song unites us all. In that moment, we’re all a single unit relating to each other with the most common aspect of life: love. There is no difference in that moment between the performers and the audience. We all become one.

What song in A Place in the Sun do you connect most with and why?

Out of all of the legendary Stevie Wonder songs in our show, I connect most to “Heaven Help us All.” The song has such powerful lyrics that paint the picture of how all humans need to be treated. Sadly, we often meet people who lack kindness, compassion, and human decency. The way we treat others is vital for unity in this world. Kindness and compassion will always be the number one priorities in my life, and “Heaven Help Us All” is such an incredible reminder of what is truly important: people.

What does Stevie Wonder’s music mean to you?

Stevie’s music is very personal to me. Of course I have always known his hit songs and admired the major impact he has had on the world and the music industry, but it wasn’t until several years ago that I became more familiar with his music overall. That time in my life was a time of personal growth, loss, love, happiness, and heartache—all at once.

As it is said in A Place in the Sun, “Stevie can make you fall in love, break your heart, and heal it in just a song.” To sing the poignant and emotional lyrics of Stevie Wonder every single night is a great blessing that I don’t take for granted. Each song has a specific personal memory that I go back to every time his music plays. Stevie’s music will always hold a special place in my heart.

Due to audience demand, A Place in the Sun: A Tribute to Stevie Wonder was held over three times and played in FST’s Goldstein Cabaret through April 16, 2023.