With his brilliant, unmistakable voice, John Ondrasik is the man behind Five for Fighting’s rich history of hits, including “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” “100 Years,” “The Riddle” and “Chances.”
Now, Ondrasik is adding a new dimension to these tunes by backing them with a string quartet while out on tour. He’ll be stopping at the Ridgefield Playhouse on March 13 to showcase this new musical direction. Ondrasik spoke with us about the changes he’s making to his career.
Keith Loria: Preview what those coming out to the Playhouse can expect on the night?
John Ondrasik: This is a unique, special show, beyond the new permutation of Five for Fighting, which is me and an incredible string quartet. I’ve also been told that one of your local icons — Stephen Schwartz — may come out and do a few songs with me. I’m very excited to play a few songs with my friends in his hometown.
JO: I started doing symphony shows about three years ago, and one of the reasons I have moved to these quartets is it allows me to add a new dimension to the popular songs. It gives the audience something new to listen to and allows me to pull out songs from my catalogue that I wouldn’t necessarily do with the rock band — songs like “Devil in the Wishing Well” and “Two Lights.”
KL: What are the pros of doing a tour like this?
JO: I like not playing rock clubs all the time. There’s a lot of context behind these songs and I can tell the stories where they came from. The quartet does their own inspirational medley to show their talent. It’s been so inspiring to play with these incredibly musicians and it’s rejuvenated me on the whole touring front.
KL: You mentioned Stephen Schwartz may be coming out. What can you tease about his role in the show?
JO: We actually wrote a song together, “Slice,” and we collaborated on some television projects and are good buddies. We’ll certainly play “Slice,” plus I grew up with “Godspell” on my piano and I’m hoping to do “Beautiful City.” But with Stephen Schwartz, whatever he wants to do, that’s what we will do.
KL: Was Stephen Schwartz someone you looked up to when you were younger or did you come to appreciate him later in life?
JO: My mom was a piano teacher so part of my training was musical theater, and in the ’70s, you would play “Corner in the Sky” or “Day by Day.” He’s such a gracious guy and still at the top of his game, and every time I write a song with him, I learn something.
KL: What can you tell me about your quartet? Do you play with the same people every night?
JO: These are the best of the best, cream of the crop New York musicians. They enjoy playing the rock music because it’s different for them. I’ve been fortunate to have the same 5-6 folks over the last few years and we’ve become like a little family.
KL: Are you recording any of these concerts for those fans who may not be able to get out and see it live?
JO: We just did a Christmas special with the quartet and released a live album digitally. This tour, for the first time, we’ll have live CDs available. Also, we’re touring this year in rooms that will allow us to record every show so by the end of the tour, we will have a quartet CD to be released.
KL: When did you know that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
JO: It was always my passion and my childhood dream to be doing this. I was pragmatic to know that it’s a one-in-a-million shot, so I got my college degree in math. Success for me came very late. I got my first record deal in my late twenties, and “Superman” and “100 Years” didn’t come until I was in my late thirties, which is really old for a songwriter. I was one of those 15-year, overnight success stories. Between perseverance and fate, I’ve been able to do this over the past 20 years.
KL: What else do you have on tap for 2018?
JO: I’m dabbling in some TV projects, dabbling in Broadway. My kids are 16 and 18 and my son is going off to college so I’m enjoying my children before we become empty nesters. I’ll be doing some shows for the troops, which is another passion of mine. Right now, I’m just looking forward to coming your way.
Five for Fighting will perform March 13 at 8 p.m. at the Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge Road, Ridgefield. Tickets are $54.50. For more information, visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.