With Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Paul O’Neill already has achieved several notable firsts for a touring musical act.
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.
This season, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is bringing its holiday extravaganza to arenas, with two touring ensembles performing more than 100 shows in the United States and Canada between Nov. 11 and Dec. 30. The tour makes its Wichita stop at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Intrust Bank Arena.
This tour has been an annual tradition since 1999, three years after O’Neill founded Trans-Siberian Orchestra. O’Neill, long-time producer of the progressive metal band Savatage, founded the Trans-Siberian Orchestra around the idea of combining a rock band and symphony to perform, for the most part, rock operas.
The holiday tours started while O’Neill and his cast of musicians — it’s common for more than 100 musicians and singers to appear on a Trans-Siberian Orchestra CD — 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. They have racked up more than $330 million in ticket sales and played to more than 8 million people.
As has been the case for several years, “Christmas Eve & 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 in the set will come mostly from the next two Trans-Siberian Orchestra projects – “Romanov (When Kings Must Whisper)” and “Gutter Ballet.”
“Some of the songs are done and completely mixed on both albums,” O’Neill said. “But what I’m doing, since I’m recording both simultaneously, again, writing the songs is only half of the battle. You’ve got to get the right singer, the alchemist, to bring it to life ... And the funny thing is I always thought ‘I’ve got 24 lead singers (in Trans-Siberian Orchestra), I’ll always have the right vocalist.’ Wrong! So basically, we’re doing the two things simultaneously, and the first one done will be the first one out. And with a little luck, I’m scared to say this, it’s looking like one of them will potentially be finished in 2012.”
Those productions figure to follow in the tradition of the two non-holiday Trans-Siberian Orchestra CDs, “Beethoven’s Last Night” (2000) and “Night Castle” (2009). Both of the albums tell stories that easily could be adapted to theatrical productions — and indeed for the third straight year TSO will perform “Beethoven’s Last Night” on a 2012 winter/spring tour in which the characters featured on that album are brought to life on stage, while accompanied by the band’s arsenal of instrumentalists — and special effects.
“I want it all,” he said, a comment that reflects O’Neill’s determination not to compromise on any aspect of a TSO project. “I want great story telling. I want great singing. I want great dialogue. I want a story that’s great if you’re seven or 107. And I want great production values to make that story have more impact.”