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Trans-Siberian Orchestra tells different story this year

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published December 6, 2012 at 3:17 a.m.

— The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become a traveling Christmas tradition over the past decade, but that doesn’t mean the group is resting on its laurels. There’s a different story line that TSO has for its fans this year, “The Lost Christmas Eve,” based on the group’s 2004 rock opera and described by TSO founder Paul O’Neill as a story of loss and redemption that takes place on a set that includes a rundown hotel, an old toy store, a blues bar and a Gothic cathedral.

“I know there’s an old saying about how if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” O’Neill says with a laugh, “but we thought the theme of ‘The Lost Christmas Eve’ would resonate better with its idea of looking out for each other and being kind to one another. There’s just something about that day that allows people to undo situations that might have been troubling them and pick up the phone and call their loved ones. And the music is again a fusion of rock, classical, folk, Broadway and rhythm and blues.

“There will still be included some of the longtime crowd favorites, such as ‘Christmas Nights in Blue’ and ‘Siberian Sleigh Ride.’ Plus this year we put out a fall EP that’s part of the show: Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night), which is also part of the touring production.”

The plot concerns a father who had abandoned his child 40 years earlier, and the journey he takes to try to undo his mistake.

In 1996, O’Neill started turning his dreams into a reality, as he began writing, recording and setting up tours for the project he calls a mix of The Who’s rock opera, Tommy, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals and Pink Floyd’s state-of-the-art light shows. Industry publication Pollstar magazine tracks the touring industry, and notes that TSO plays live to more than 1 million fans annually, ranking in the Top 10 for both gross revenues and attendance.

“And you could say that the show is like Queen meeting The Who and Pink Floyd plus The Yardbirds,” O’Neill muses, “since [The Yardbirds] spawned the careers of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. So we have guitar players, of course, and about 24 lead singers. Why? Because this way, we can do anything.

“There used to be 45 major labels for musicians to go to, and now there’s really just three big ones, so I figure there’s 27,000 bands that don’t have a record deal anymore, and some of them will find their way to us. We have 80 core members that split in half for our touring, and we refuse to go out before Nov. 1 and after the first of January, because we want to have to most emotional impact that we can have. And we’re probably the first outfit to never be an opening act and to never have an opening act.”

O’Neill began his musical career working as a producer, and when he was asked to work with a hard-rock band, Savatage, he developed a vision of how he wanted to create the first progressive metal band, which evolved into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with an emphasis on Christmas music that rocks out and has the lights and lasers that will dazzle fans who have grown up on rock ’n’ roll extravaganzas, as well as touring Broadway musicals.

Since 1996, TSO has toured annually and has sold more than 8.5 million albums. TSO has released five full albums:

Christmas Eve and Other Stories in 1996, The Christmas Attic in 1998, Beethoven’s Last Night in 2000, The Lost Christmas Eve in 2004 and Night Castle in 2009; plus the Dreams of Fireflies EP; The Ghost of Christmas Eve DVD; and, as a fundraising tool for PBS, The Birth of Rock Theater.

This tour — sponsored by The Hallmark Channel — began Nov. 15, and again has two productions on the road simultaneously, so that they can reach as many fans as possible in the short holiday season. There will be more than 100 shows in 65 North American cities. On Friday when one company is at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock for one show, another company will be in Grand Rapids, Mich., doing two shows.

Trans-Siberian

Orchestra

8 p.m. Friday, Verizon Arena, East Broadway and Interstate 30, North Little Rock Tickets: $43.50-$88.50 (800) 745-3000 ticketmaster.com

Weekend, Pages 35 on 12/06/2012

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