A version of this story appears on the cover of Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings “Lost Christmas Eve” to Oklahoma City
A yuletide favorite, the progressive rock band is telling a new holiday tale with its stage spectacle.
That’s why Paul O’Neill experienced a rare case of nerves at the outset of the progressive rock band’s winter tour, which is coming to Chesapeake Energy Arena for two shows Saturday. After 13 years, TSO’s founder, producer and writer decided to change rock operas for this holiday season.
“For the Christmas trilogy, we never intended to tour the first one for 13 years in a row.
It just kind of happened. And when I told William Morris (Agency, which represents TSO) we were gonna switch to ‘The Lost Christmas Eve,’ they were like, ‘No, you can’t. This is like “A Christmas Carol.” It’s “The Nutcracker.” It’s tradition. It’s not broken, don’t fix it,’” O’Neill said in a phone interview this week from his hometown of New York City.
“I was positive to switch rock operas this winter was the right move, but when your agents are fighting you that hard, you get a little nervous. So I was like buying Tums and Rolaids by the gallon from the pharmacy.”
Instead of retelling “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” the rock opera based on the band’s 1996 debut album, Trans-Siberian Orchestra this season is making “The Lost Christmas Eve” the centerpiece of its stage spectacle, which incorporates a string section, several singers, pyrotechnics, lasers and a light show.
It’s easy to understand why the prospect of change would unsettle O’Neill’s agents: TSO has played live to more than 9 million people and grossed in excess of $350 million since the band’s first tour in 1999. More than 1 million people saw the group in concert in 2011, and the ensemble has sold 8.5 million albums.
“I just thought the story of ‘The Lost Christmas Eve’ would resonate better with our fans, especially with what’s going on in the world right now,” O’Neill said, referring to the 2004 rock opera based on the third and final LP of the band’s Christmas trilogy.
“If you live long enough, you’re eventually gonna know somebody who hasn’t talked to a parent, a sibling, a friend, a co-worker in decades and there’s something about December 24th that they can pick up the phone and say ‘I can’t even remember what we were fighting about’ or ‘what we were fighting about was so stupid’ or ‘can’t we just hit reset?’”
“The Lost Christmas Eve” centers on a billionaire Wall Street banker who four decades ago gave up his newborn child for the shallowest of reasons. As “the ultimate misanthrope curmudgeon” is forced to walk home to his Park Avenue apartment on Christmas Eve, he encounters all the unique landmarks and “all the wacky inhabitants you can only bump into in New York City,” O’Neill said. Along the way, he is able to little by little undo his tragic mistake.
“Like anybody used to my stories (knows), if it’s not happy, it’s not the ending. If you want sad stories, just, you know, watch the news,” he said.
In keeping with TSO tradition, the first half of this year’s production is dedicated to the new rock opera. The second half mixes up hits from the band’s other albums, cuts from its new holiday EP “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)” and samplings from upcoming records.
In the prog rock band’s usual eclectic style, the new five-song offering fuses hard rock and heavy metal with other sonic influences ranging from Vivaldi to gospel.
“(It) was our way of saying thank you to the fans,” O’Neill said, adding the band’s new label, Universal Republic, agreed to sell the EP for less than $5.
“Dreams of Fireflies” also will be Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s last Christmas album for awhile, he said. The group is working on four upcoming non-holiday releases: “Gutter Ballet,” “Letters from the Labyrinth,” “Running in the Passion of the Fairytale Moon” and “Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper. The latter was originally planned as TSO’s debut album back in 1994, and O’Neill said it is now 80 percent finished.
“I learned a long time ago, when you have the right vocal for the right song, record it and get it in a can,” he said.
“They’re fun to write … they’re fun to record, but it’s not real until you get to perform it in front of a live audience.”
So far, audiences have approved O’Neill’s decision to launch the new holiday rock opera.
“Ticket sales are double-digit ahead of last year, the fans are loving it, the reviews have been great,” he said. “I’m like ‘whew.’ Now I gotta see if I can get the pharmacy to take all these Tums back.”
When: 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, 100 W Reno.
Information: (800) 745-3000 or www.chesapeakearena.com.