Trans-Siberian Orchestra evolves

Shows to go from rock opera to ‘rock theater’

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If you go

What: Trans-Siberian Orchestra, in concert.

When: 3 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27.

Where: The Rose Garden, 300 N. Winning Way, Portland.

Cost: $29-$59.50 through the Rose Quarter, 877-789-7673 or rosequarter.com.

Information: http://trans-siberian.com

With more than 80 performers, a series of bombastic Christmas albums and a decade of successful arena tours, Trans-Siberian Orchestra has developed a reputation for going big. It has also used more fireworks, fire, lasers and other special effects at each performance than any other rock band in history, according to Paul O’Neill, the band’s composer, lyricist and producer.

Now O’Neill wants to move beyond the band’s rock opera performances, into a genre he has dubbed “rock theater.”

The concept: keep the visual effects and lyric-driven songs, but add more story to the stage, taking lessons from the world of Broadway.

“I worship some of these Broadway shows I’ve seen over the years, but they could have been produced in the exact same way in 1920,” O’Neill said. “It’s just the lights, maybe occasionally dry ice, smoke and that’s it. I honestly believe if you looked behind the walls of some of these theaters, you’d see electric (systems) installed by Thomas Edison in 1890.”

Yet O’Neill’s ideas about “rock theater” don’t sound like much of a leap from what Trans-Siberian Orchestra has been doing with its holiday tours for more than a decade now.

For example, starting in early 2012 the group will embark on its third “Beethoven’s Last Night” tour in three years, bringing characters to life on stage and backing them with an arsenal of instruments and special effects.

Before that, the group’s two touring ensembles will perform more than 100 shows in the United States and Canada in November and December, continuing an annual tradition that dates to 1999.

As has been the case for several years, “Christmas Eve & Other Stories” will be featured as the main rock opera during the first set of this Christmas season’s show. The second set will once again be a full-on rock concert featuring material from across the Trans-Siberian Orchestra catalog — although O’Neill said there will be some new twists.

“The opening is a brand new song from one of the upcoming albums,” he said. “There are a lot of new songs in the second half of the set. There are new special effects that have just come out off of the production line.”

The new songs in the set will come mostly from the two Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums that are currently being recorded, “Romanov (When Kings Must Whisper)” and “Gutter Ballet.”

Following in the footsteps of earlier albums “Beethoven’s Last Night” (2000) and “Night Castle” (2009), both of the new CDs will tell stories that could easily be adapted to theatrical productions.

Songs from the new albums will allow Trans-Siberian Orchestra to demonstrate the “rock theater” idea in action. O’Neill plans to introduce performances at fixed venues, as in traditional theater, rather than taking them from arena to arena. He could later develop touring productions, he said.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s holiday tours started while O’Neill and his cast of musicians were recording and releasing a trilogy of Christmas-themed CDs. The holiday tours backed by those albums have become perennial blockbusters, racking up more than $330 million in ticket sales and drawing more than 8 million audience members.

O’Neill attributes that success to the vision that underpins Trans-Siberian Orchestra tours.

“I want it all,” he said. “I want great storytelling. I want great singing. I want great dialogue. I want a story that’s great if you’re 7 or 107. And I want great production values to make that story have more impact.”