On the surface, the concept behind the Trans-Siberian Orchestra might not read like the recipe for massive commercial success: Paul O’Neill, a producer/composer who’s worked with Aerosmith and Savatage, among many others, recruits Savatage guitarist Al Pitrelli and keyboard players Jon Oliva and Bob Kinkel and creates a progressive rock/heavy metal hybrid band that records multiple-movement, classically influenced concept albums, many of which are holiday related.
But after a slew of gold and platinum awards and sold-out tours, it would appear that O’Neill knew exactly what he was doing. Starting with their 1996 debut, “The Christmas Attic,” the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has created epic after epic, blending richly melodic compositions with dazzling musicianship and jaw-dropping visuals. Releases like “The Lost Christmas Eve,” “Night Castle” and “Christmas Eve & Other Stories” have sold in the millions and spawned sold-out tours.
The average TSO show is just as much a visual spectacle as a musical one. The staging resembles a Broadway show, with constantly changing sets and dazzling light shows. The band has even been known to throw in a few special effects, including having snow fall on the audience.
But the show they’ve chosen to go with this year is a bit of an odd choice. Rather than recreate one of their multiplatinum Christmas-themed concept albums, O’Neil decided to revive the music for “The Ghost of Christmas Eve,” a 1999 made-for-TV movie starring Ossie Davis. The movie tells the story of a runaway who takes refuge in an abandoned theater on Christmas Eve and experiences the musical performances as ghostly visions from the theater’s past.
O’Neill says that a few performances of “The Ghost of Christmas Eve” went so well during the TSO’s 2015 tour that he felt compelled to bring it back. “We got a huge amount of fan mail from people that loved it and asked if we were going to be doing it again,” he says. “And we exist for the fans.”
The response took O’Neill by surprise, because the film and the music were created so quickly back in 1999. “Fox basically called us up one year and said, ‘Well, Dec. 2 we had a show drop out,’” he says. “I said, ‘If you give me an hour, I’ll give you a movie. I’ll write it tonight.’ We were really lucky, because people like Jewel and Michael Crawford joined us to play some of the ghosts. It was only supposed to run once and then run again, but 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.”
Recreating a movie on a concert stage isn’t easy, and while O’Neill, who will lead the TSO back to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Friday, likes to keep the specifics secret, he’s happy to talk about the amount of work involved. “We always try to keep it secret so that it’s always a surprise,” he says. “But the show that we’re doing this year we couldn’t do five years ago. The show we were doing five years ago we couldn’t do five years before that. Technology has been moving in such leaps and bounds.”
Much like the music, O’Neill plays a large role in coming up with the effects for the TSO’s show. “It was always part of the vision for Trans-Siberian Orchestra,” he says. “I saw Pink Floyd, I think it was in ’96 or ’95, and they blew my mind. I basically learned you can design a show, as long as you don’t care about the budget. Basically, every year we know all the pyro companies, we know all the lighting companies, we know all the special effects companies. They all know that if they invent great special effects that are insanely expensive, there is one band that is dumb enough to buy it, and that’s us.”
Artist: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Venue: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, 650 N. Academy St., Greenville
Date: Friday, Dec. 9
Showtimes: 4 p.m., 8 p.m.
Info: 864-241-3800, bonsecoursarena.com