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Concert Reviews:
TSO Puts "Beethoven" On The Boards
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK



DETROIT -- It's been a decade since Trans Siberian Orchestra last filled the stage of the Detroit Opera House with its brand of bombastic prog rock spectacle, instead making annual holiday season pilgrimages to the Palace of Auburn Hills.

But as the symphonic rock troupe treads in a new direction, it apparently felt a return to its roots was in order -- including a stop back at the Opera House on Wednesday night (April 21).

"Roots," however, does not mean reduction. While TSO's first non-winter tour, to present its 2000 piece "Beethoven's Last Night," was stripped-down by arena standards, it still featured a greater dose of flash and visual sizzle than most acts put into a small hall, more akin to a bona fide theatrical production than standard-issue concert. An extensive light show enveloped the 28-piece entourage, while webs of laser light hung over the band and crowd. Projections illustrated the story on HD screens at the rear of the stage.

And there was the athleticism of the TSO company itself, particularly nimble-fingered guitarists Al Pitrelli and Chris Caffery and bow-shredding, stage-sliding concertmaster Roddy Chong, whose moves at times made "Riverdance" look like middle school calisthenics.

Be assured, meanwhile, that "Beethoven's..." is indeed designed more as a theater piece and is perhaps a transitional step in TSO's move to the Broadway stage. The real star of the show Wednesday, besides the deaf composer himself, was narrator Brian Hicks, whose emotive commentary ran the gamut between stilted scholarship and "Sesame Street" storytelling as he guided the exuberant Opera House crowd through a long and somewhat clunky composition that, blown up to nearly 2 hours and 15 minutes, seemed bloated in the translation from disc to stage. A blend of "A Christmas Carol" and "The Devil and Max Devlin" -- with Beethoven and Mephistopheles bartering for the former's soul and possession of a fictional 10th Symphony -- the rock opera felt like a long "...Night" for all concerned.

And the couple attempts at choreographed dance routines were better suited for sporting event breaks than the TSO stage.

That did not mean there weren't grand moments, however -- particularly on virtuoistic instrumentals such as "Mozart & Memories," "Requiem (The Fifth)" and "Beethoven," all of which fused actual classical pieces into hard rocking arrangements. TSO vet Rob Evan was a solid Beethoven, while Jeff Scott Soto gave the Devil his vocal due and Chloe Lowery was effective as Beethoven's "immortal beloved" Theresa.

Musical director Pitrelli, a former member of Alice Cooper's band, also curried favor with the Detroit crowd by slipping a bit of the Detroit native's hit "Only Women Bleed" into the show.

TSO finished the night with a couple of songs from its 2009 album "Night Castle," including "Believe" sung by Grand Rapids native Tim Hockenberry. That will presumably hit the boards in a full-fledged fashion in the future, too -- hopefully with some lessons learned from "Beethoven's..." inaugural run.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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