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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Arena rock to the next level


With Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Paul O’Neill, has already achieved several notable firsts for a touring musical act.

Mark Weiss, Special With its dazzling stage effects and a "rock theater" format, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra makes the live concert an experience.

To O’Neill’s knowledge, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is the first rock act to never have an opening act or open a show for any other act. It’s the first band to have more than 80 members and the first act to go straight to arenas for its first tour.


He’s also set new standards for visual spectacle in a live show, launching more fireworks, fire, lasers and other special effects for each performance than any other rock band in history.


Now O’Neill, the band’s composer and producer, has set his sights on live theater, and if his vision for what he calls “rock theater” succeeds, it will be interesting to see how it influences Broadway musicals and other live theater productions are presented.


His vision for rock theater boils down to a basic concept — to take the spectacular modern visual production of a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert and the fully developed stories that are told in the lyrics of the group’s rock opera-styled CDs to the stage and bring theater into the 21st century.


“You know, I worship some of these Broadway shows I’ve seen over the years, but they could have been produced in the exact same way in 1920,” O’Neill said. “It’s just the lights, maybe occasionally dry ice, smoke and that’s it. I honestly believe if you looked behind the walls of some of these theaters, you’d see electric [systems] installed by Thomas Edison in 1890. And so it [the idea] is to take the cutting edge, always-pushing-the-envelope of the special effects of rock and roll, married to the coherent story telling of Broadway,”


In listening to O’Neill talk about “rock theater,” though, his ideas aren’t much of a leap from what Trans-Siberian Orchestra has been doing with its holiday tours for more than a decade now.


The holiday tours started while O’Neill and his cast of musicians were in the process of recording and releasing a trilogy of Christmas-themed CDs. The first was “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” in 1996, followed by “The Christmas Attic” in 1998 and “The Lost Christmas Eve” in 2004.


The holiday tours have become perennial blockbusters, racking up more than $330 million in ticket sales and playing to more than 8 million people over their history.


As has been the case for several years, “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” will be featured as the main rock opera during the first set of this year’s show.


The second set will once again be a full-on rock concert featuring material from across the Trans-Siberian Orchestra catalog — although O’Neill said there will be some new twists this time around.


“We’re psyched to be taking out the winter tour,” he said. “The opening is a brand new song from one of the upcoming albums. There are a lot of new songs in the second half of the set. There are new special effects that have just come out off of the production line.”


The new songs will come mostly from the group’s next two CDs that are currently being recorded — “Romanov (When Kings Must Whisper)” and “Gutter Ballet.”

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