TSO bringing Christmas ghosts to town

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra makes its annual visit to Albany on Sunday, with the live debut of “The
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert (photo provided)
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert (photo provided)

Traditions abound in December.

Kissing under the mistletoe, caroling in the snow and drinking eggnog by the fireside are favorites for some.

Watching the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a favorite for others.

The symphonic powerhouse makes its annual visit to Albany on Sunday, and this year’s big deal is the live debut of “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More.” Fans will have two chances to catch electric sounds and colors — show times will be 3 and 7:30 p.m.

Holidays are TSO’s sugar and spice. “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” became Trans-Siberian’s debut album in 1996. “The Christmas Attic” followed in 1998, and “The Lost Christmas Eve” wrapped up the rock opera series in 2004.

The orchestra performed the “Attic” during last year’s Christmas season tour, and producer Paul O’Neill has promised something big for 2016, the 20th anniversary of “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.”

That put “Ghost” in the mix for this year, and the sonic, spectral story dates to late 1999. And television.

“We got a call from FOX, who had a small, I think one-hour, mini-movie drop-out,” O’Neill said in a recent conference call with journalists.

“They asked us if they could film the band for an hour doing ‘Beethoven’s Last Night,’ which we had just completed. I said, ‘if you give me an hour, I’ll give you a mini-movie.’ ”

Like a kid on Christmas morning, FOX was sort of thrilled.

“They’re like, ‘Do you have a script?’ and I’m like, ‘I’ll write it tonight’” O’Neill said. “I just quickly scripted together this little thing, where a 15-year-old ends up breaking into this old Vaudeville theater. She’s a runaway. There she’s discovered by the caretaker, who uses the ghosts and the spirits from the theater to turn her life around. Thank God, FOX liked it.”

For a rush job, the network and TSO were able to attract some hotshots for appearances. Ossie Davis played the caretaker, and Jewel and Michael Crawford also showed up for scenes. “It was only supposed to run once and never again, but it did so well FOX ran it multiple times,” O’Neill said. “Then it has basically run on various stations ever since. The DVD has gone multi-platinum.”

When one of O’Neill’s managers mentioned that the band had never done “Ghost” live, the 2015 holiday tour question was solved.

“I’ve always liked it, it’s a little gem,” O’Neill said. “It’s fun to watch it at home, with your family, but live there’s an excitement where you pick up the energy of the person in front of you, to the left of you, to the right of you. We decided if we were ever going to do ‘The Ghost of Christmas Eve,’ live, it was this year or not at all, so we decided to go for it.”

The orchestra will release its new album, “Letters from the Labyrinth,” this winter. O’Neill said new sights and sounds are always things TSO tries to incorporate into its live shows.

“We’ve just been very lucky,” he said. “From the pyro guys to laser guys to light guys, they’re the first ones in and the last ones out. If you have a great song, that’s great, but if you have great production where the lights and the lasers and the pyro and everything else is going off in time, off of one nervous system, it helps to take it to a whole other level.”

Over-the-top production? O’Neill sure hopes so.

“It breaks down the wall between the band and the audience, it kind of makes it all one,” he said. “I would love to say that it was part of our plan to write these three rock operas and that they would be humongously successful during the holiday season and we would take them out every November, December. But honestly, we were completely blindsided by the success of the Christmas trilogy.”

O’Neill is grateful for TSO’s holiday success. But it comes at a small price.

“It’s an unbelievable honor and it’s very flattering,” he said. “The little bit of a problem, is that it throws off the natural rock rhythm . . . no matter what is going on, when October rolls around, you shut down the studios, you shut everything else down. Everybody heads off to an arena and we just start to put together these humongous productions.”

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