Last year at this time, Paul O’Neill, founder of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, was already looking forward to the combination rock band/orchestra’s 2016 Christmas tour.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the album that not only put TSO on the musical map, it established the group as a mainstay during the holiday season and set the stage for TSO to grow into what is now considered the most successful annual touring act during the Christmas season.
That album was “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” and O’Neill was promising that TSO would do something big this holiday season to celebrate that anniversary and that album’s legacy.
So now the 2016 holiday tour is here, and the group’s show features – drum roll please – “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.”
There you have it. Instead of “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” returning as the centerpiece of the show to mark that album’s 20th anniversary, TSO is bringing back “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” the rock opera that TSO featured for the first time last year.
What happened? Basically, O’Neill decided to heed the time-honored advice to give the people what they want.
Fan response, he said, convinced him to bring back “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” for a second year. “We exist for the fans.”
Ironically, “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” was not created with the idea that it would be performed on the concert stage, which is a main reason it wasn’t performed in its entirety live until last year.
The project came about when the Fox television network approached O’Neill in 1999 asking him if TSO would do a one-hour version of the group’s recently completed rock opera, Beethoven’s Last Night,” as a television special.
“I asked ‘Why?’” O’Neill recalled. “And they said, ‘Well, Dec. 2nd we had a show drop out.’ I said, ‘If you give me an hour, I’ll give you a movie.’ They said, ‘Do you have a script?’ I said, ‘I’ll write it tonight.’
“We took it pretty simple: A runaway from the Midwest comes to New York City and breaks into an old band in Vaudeville Theater,” he said, outlining the story. “There she was discovered by the caretaker played by Ossie Davis, who uses the ghost and the spirits of the band and theater to turn her life around. We were really lucky, because people like Jewel and Michael Crawford joined us to play some of the ghosts. … It did so well for Fox they ran it multiple times. Then it took off in syndication and between public TV and all these different stations, it runs pretty much every year.”
“The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” is now just one of many success stories that are part of TSO’s two-decade history.
Since that special aired, TSO has gone on to become a major success, with “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” a triple-platinum hit, leading the way. Its other releases include two holiday rock operas, “The Christmas Attic” (1998) and “The Lost Christmas Eve” (2004), and three non-holiday rock operas, 2000’s “Beethoven’s Last Night,” 2009’s “Night Castle” and 2015’s “Letters from the Labyrinth.” In all, TSO’s CDs and DVDs have sold more than 10 million copies.
The group’s annual Christmas tour went straight to arenas its first year (1999) and last year grossed $45 million in 45 days. This year the two touring companies of TSO, each numbering some 60 singers and musicians, will play 60-plus cities (with a matinee and evening show in many of the tour stops).
O’Neill promises that this year’s holiday show will continue TSO’s tradition of what many consider the most visually spectacular production of any touring band, deploying all manner of pyro, lighting and other special effects. O’Neill knows he could cut back on the visuals and boost TSO’s bottom line, but refuses to do so.
“The look on the kids’ faces when they see an effect that has never been done before, it’s just worth it,’ O’Neill said.
“We do a lot of other silly things. One of the reasons we put the stage in the back of the arena is so that … there’s always going to be a point during the show where you’re like in the best place to see the show.
“I remember the first time we did it, the accountants going, ‘Paul, you can’t do this. You are killing seats. You are killing floor seats.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, but it looks really, really cool.’ True story,” O’Neill said. “The next day when I showed up at rehearsal the accountant bought T-shirts for all of the crew. In the front it just had a little TSO logo. On the back in big block letters it says, “Jesus saves, Paul spends.”
The Ghost of Christmas Eve
What: Rock opera tour by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
When: 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 28
Where: Golden 1 Center, 500 David J Stern Walk, Sacramento