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Trans-Siberian Orchestra looks beyond holiday tradition

of the Oakland Press

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O’Neill knows he’s created a good thing — a project that, since 1999, has transcended trends to become a bona fide holiday tradition.

But he also knows why the tradition endures.

“When we started touring and it went so well, our agents were like, ‘You’re going to have to start earlier in October and finish the end of January,” recalls O’Neill, 54. “I was like, ‘You can’t do it.’ The whole idea behind TSO is to have the most emotional impact. When I grew up, I never wanted to see ‘The Nutcracker’ or ‘A Christmas Carol’ before Nov. 1 or after the weekend behind New Year’s Eve.

“To me, November and December, they have a little more magic. So that’s when we’ll play.”

So rather than elongate the annual tour, O’Neill and company have accommodated the demand by creating two TSO companies that play concurrently. And it works like a charm; the troupe’s 2009 outing drew more than 1.2 million fans, grossing nearly $45 million in ticket sales.

But TSO has made more strides toward becoming more than just a holiday act this year.

A year ago, the group released its second non-Christmas rock opera, “Night Castle,” which debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Earlier this year, TSO debuted a live production of its 2000 album “Beethoven’s Last Night.” Its first-ever tour of Europe is looming in mid-March, and O’Neill has Broadway fixed in his sights for the very near future.

TSO actually has two projects in the works for the Great White Way. “Romanov: What Kings Must Whisper,” a rock opera about the Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution in 1918, is “the furthest along, just because it’s completely written and scored and ready to go.” “Romanov” was actually supposed to be TSO’s first album in 1994, O’Neill says, “but a number of people who have a lot of credibility on Broadway heard it and said it’s too good to just go and do a record. It should be a Broadway musical, and I always wanted to take on Broadway, so we pulled it back.”

Also on tap is “Gutter Ballet,” which O’Neill started as a 1989 album for the group Savatage and is rewriting with that band’s frontman, Jon Oliva.

There’s no hard and fast deadline for either endeavor to hit the stage, but O’Neill says that in both cases, TSO will release an album before the production opens.

“My biggest problem is simply time,” O’Neill says with a laugh. “I need to get one of those magical stopwatches where time freezes and I can play catch-up. But after we finish the winter tour, technically we have January off. So we’re going to take a look and figure out where to concentrate our forces and where to concentrate the talent and what to do next.”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 30, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $28-61. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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