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Trans-Siberian Orchestra stays in the holiday spirit with new EP, live show

For Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012

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Trans-Siberian has become as perennial and reliable a feature of the holiday season as stockings, egg nog and credit card debt.

But that doesn't mean the symphonic rock outfit can't throw a few new wrinkles into its well-established regimen.

This year TSO -- which has sold more than 8.5 million albums and played for more than nine million fans since 1996 -- has given its fans a couple of "presents." One is new music, a five-song EP titled "Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)" that marks TSO's first new holiday-focused music in eight years. On the road, meanwhile, the group is also playing its entire 2004 rock opera "The Lost Christmas Eve" -- which has sold more than 2.2 million copies in the U.S. -- for the first time ever, documented by a TV special last month that aired on the Hallmark Channel.

"You go into something thinking you're going to try to be new and fresh and different all the time, and sometimes you get sidetracked," explains TSO's New York-based founder Paul O'Neill. "It never crossed my mind that 'Christmas Eve and Other Stories' (TSO's triple-platinum 1996 debut), would be as successful as it was and, consequently, as in-demand as it's been.

"It's like Charles Dickens in a way; he wrote five books about Christmas, but the only one anyone ever talks about is 'A Christmas Carol.' We've kind of been the same way."

O'Neill, 56, notes that "depending on my mood, a lot of times ('The Lost Christmas Eve') is my favorite story. It's about the ability of anybody to be redeemed and to undo a mistake." And he doesn't deny that the story -- about a successful business man who, with the help of a guardian angel, revisits his past and eyeballs his future and makes amends with those he's wronged -- may seem a little familiar.

But, he argues, it's always worth telling.

"I always take my inspiration from Charles Dickens, too," O'Neill acknowledges. "He takes on these universal themes -- Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? What is the point of our lives, and how do they change as we get older?

"That's deep stuff. It says that the thing that counts the most is time and what we do with it and how we treat each other. I think everybody can find something they identify with in there. And, of course, it has a happy ending. If it's not a happy ending, it's not one of my stories."

"Dreams of Fireflies," meanwhile, was intended as a kind of stocking stuffer for the TSO faithful who haven't had any new music from the troupe since 2009's non-holiday "Night Castle."

"We had never done an EP before, but we wanted to have something for the new tour for the fans," O'Neill says. "The suggested list price is $5 or under, so in these economic times anyone should be able to buy it. I just think it's a way to say thank you to the fans and a little gem to slip between the other albums until we deliver another album, hopefully in the spring."

That album is intended to be the long-awaited rock opera "Gutter Ballet," which O'Neill says is "about 60 percent done" and which he also hopes to turn into a full-fledged Broadway stage production. TSO has been performing one of the songs, "Someday," in this year's shows and also included it in the "Dreams of Fireflies" EP.

It's one of several TSO projects in the works, including "Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper" about the 1917 Russian Revolution, and "Letters From the Labyrinth." Next year, meanwhile, marks the 20th anniversary of TSO's founding, which gives O'Neill pause when it's mentioned.

"I didn't even think about it 'til you just said it...because it seems like just yesterday to me," he claims. "It has been a very surreal ride, to say the least. I can't even imagine what people like Mick Jagger feel like, or Paul McCartney, who have seen 30 and 40 and 50 (years). When you're on a rock that's moving that fast, you're just unaware of how far you've gone and how much time has gone by. Some of the band members joke that they've been in TSO longer than two of their marriages...

"So it's been a long and wild ride, and fingers crossed that it will continue on for decades to come. It's become all I hoped it would -- and a lot more."

Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $33-$73. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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