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Two decades later, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is still the king of Christmas shows

21st Century Media/Digital Media First, @GraffonMu

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2013

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It's been 20 years since Paul O'Neill created Trans-Siberian Orchestra -- a bombastic idea which has become as much a holiday tradition as tree tinsel, egg nog and ugly sweaters.

Conceived in 1993, O'Neill's rock-theater troupe has released five rock opera albums and an EP since 1996 -- selling 10 million copies combined -- with the single "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" debuting at the beginning of that year. TSO's pyrotechnic-laden shows have also played to more than 10 million people since going on the road in 1999, now with two companies criss-crossing North America during November and December.

And the group will add another estimated million with a New Year's Eve show at the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin.

Not surprisingly, the 57-year-old O'Neill -- whose pre-TSO credits include work with Aerosmith, AC/DC, Joan Jett, Scorpions, Savatage and others -- says the two decades has flown by for him. "Honestly, it just seems like the blink of an eye," O'Neill notes. "I think part of it is that this machine is running at 110 percent around the clock, trying to keep up with everything we're doing, so you're not even thinking about time passing, you know?

"The bottom line is people still need entertainment and we just have to go out there and give it to them and make it bigger and better every year -- even though my accountants hate me for that. But the rock guardian angels have been keeping an eye on us, and hopefully in 10 years we'll be having the same conversation -- 'Can you believe it's been 30 years'?!"

O'Neill, a self-confessed "uber perfectionist," certainly has a full docket when it comes to TSO's future. He has three more rock operas in the works -- "Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper," "Gutter Ballet and the New York City Blues Express" and "Letters From the Labryinth," all in various stages of completion. He wants to mount a production of TSO's non-holiday piece "Night Castle" as well as more theater performances for TSO -- "Actually doing rock theater in theaters rather than arenas," he explains.

All of that will come to pass in due time, O'Neill promises. Meanwhile, TSO fans this year are seeing a final performance of 2004's double-platinum "The Lost Christmas Eve" in its entirety -- although songs from the album will remain in TSO's sets.

"I always believe you're either growing and changing or you're dying," O'Neill says. "We did (1996's) 'Christmas Eve and Other Stories' 13 years in a row by accident; it just kind of happened. Last year we switched to 'The Lost Christmas Eve;' you're always nervous when you change something that works for so long, but I was pretty confident it would do well. And it did.

"So we're playing it one more time, and next year we'll do something different again. I think at this point people have a lot of faith and trust in us, which is a lot of pressure. But that's OK; it keeps us on our toes."

Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs at 3 and 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27, 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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