The Times Union Center in Albany will turn into a haunted house this Sunday.
Paul O’Neill is good with the ghosts. Unlike the meaner and more mischievous poltergeists of October, spirits that come with Christmas holidays are often in much better moods.
And O’Neill — creator, lyricist and composer of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra — believes people will enjoy the chills and thrills that come with “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, The Best of TSO and More,” the big attraction for this season’s TSO tour.
The spooky, merry show will play twice at the Times Union Center, at 3 and 7:30 p.m., and will repeat the 2015 TSO holiday concert.
The music and story were assembled in 1999, and it was a rush job.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve
WHEN: Sunday, 3 and 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
HOW MUCH: $77.50-$47.50
MORE INFO: 487-2000, www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
“We never really ever intended to do ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,’ ” O’Neill said in a recent conference call with journalists. “As you know, it was a television special we did for Fox — who basically called us up one year and asked us to do ‘Beethoven’s Last Night,’ for an hour.
“I asked ‘Why?’ and they said, ‘Well, December 2 we had a show drop out.’ I said, ‘If you give me an hour I’ll give you a movie.’ They said, ‘Do you have a script?’ I said, ‘I’ll write it tonight.’”
It was quick and simple: A runaway from the Midwest comes to New York City, breaks into an old theater. There, she’s discovered by the caretaker (played by Ossie Davis in the movie) who uses the ghost and the spirits of a band and the theater to turn her life around.
The movie was a hit for Fox and later boomed in syndication. Fans familiar with TSO’s trilogy of Christmas-themed pieces — “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” from 1996, “The Christmas Attic” from 1998 and “The Lost Christmas Eve” from 2004, began asking if the TV “Ghosts” were ever going to show up on stage. They did, for the first time, last year
“We exist for the fans,” O’Neill said. “Two years in a row, it really isn’t a lot when you consider we did ‘Christmas Eve’ for 13 years in a row. We kind of came to the decision that we were trying to shuffle them more just so again, never allow boredom to set in.”
New singers are in the cast, and O’Neill will talk about them — Ashley Hollister from New Jersey and Canadian Rosa Laricchiuta are both on the TSO team. New special effects are also in the mix, but O’Neill won’t play spoiler on the light tricks and other gimmicks people will see at the Times Union Center on Sunday.
“The show we were doing five years we couldn’t do five years before that,” O’Neill said. “Technology has been moving in such leaps and bounds … these new LEDs are just so efficient the way they use power. We used to have carry two tractor trailers of generators because a lot of the buildings couldn’t handle our electrical poles. Two years ago, the lights got so efficient we were able to drop the generators which left more room for pyro.”
Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s sound and set-up are nods to big rock bands and big rock ideas of the past.
“Basically it was always part of the vision for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the mixing classical with rock, which I obviously got from bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer,” O’Neill said of the progressive rock outfit famous during the 1970s. “The rock opera aspect, which I love because it gives a third dimension, I plagiarized from The Who.”
Some of O’Neill’s inspiration for TSO’s visuals came from Pink Floyd. He caught one of the guys’ live shows during the mid-1990s.”
“The band was kind enough to give me front row seats and they blew my mind,” O’Neill said. “I simply had never seen a show that good where every time you thought you saw the ultimate gag, they had 10 more lined up.”
One challenge is punching up the special effects a notch every year. The audience expects something new.
“Every year we always say the same thing, ‘How the heck are we going to beat this?’ O’Neill said. “Actually, a couple of our crew members used to work for Pink Floyd and one of them said, ‘Paul there is a reason why Pink Floyd toured like once every five years.’ I’m discovering why. It’s a good problem to be having and it’s also one of the reasons why at the end of every tour we take quite a bit of the production and pretty much cut it up, which forces us to have to come up with something new, something different.”
Some bands are following TSO’s lead. O’Neill said there are about 50 Trans-Siberian cover bands around the country.
Covers by kids
“It’s the ultimate flattery,” he said, “because when I was like 14, 15 I was playing Led Zeppelin and Who and never thought there would be a day when somebody would be playing our stuff. We just think it’s great that these kids are out there playing our music. Every once in a while we’ll touch bases and give them suggestions or this, that and the other thing. Honestly, it’s the ultimate compliment.”
O’Neill works to keep the sounds and sights on stage fresh, but also wants to make sure TSO shows are affordable for everyone.
“It shouldn’t be a financial strain,” he said. “When I was doing shows in the ‘60s, the first time I saw The Who it was $5. I’ll never forget when I saw Led Zeppelin, it was $7.50 and my friends were going, ‘$7.50? How can they justify this?’ Tickets now have just, it’s insane. I mean you can get round trip flights to London cheaper than shows these days.
“We agonize to keep it affordable,” O’Neill also said, “and that’s also one of the reasons why we do matinees. Originally, we only used to do night shows … one year we decided to experiment in a couple of cities. We put matinees on and it works. We realized besides keeping the ticket affordable you have to make it easy for people to get there, fit it into their schedules.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.