Trans-Siberian Orchestra Aims For Broadway Home
As it prepares to mount its first-ever non-holiday tour -- the long-awaited recital of "Beethoven's Last Night" -- Trans-Siberian Orchestra is also setting its sights on the Great White Way.
"Broadway beckons," Paul O'Neill, the founder and chief creative force behind the classical rock troupe best known for its trilogy of Christmas concept albums and pyrotechic-laden tours, tells Billboard.com. "We're a bit nervous about Broadway 'cause we've never done it before, but it's time. Trans Siberian Orchestra will keep going and keep recording and continue as a progressive rock band, but within the near future we'd like to have the first theatrical show up and running."
That will likely be "Gutter Ballet," a piece O'Neill began as a 1989 album for the group Savatage and was still an active interest when he formed TSO in 1996. O'Neill and company are currently "re-recording 'Gutter Ballet' in its original Broadway format," though there's no firm timetable on when it might go into full production.
Meanwhile, O'Neill also envisions turning "Beethoven's Last Night" into a Broadway piece as well but says that "it's important to tour it as a rock band first. If it's a Trans Siberian Orchestra rock opera we have to tour it first just like Pete Townshend toured 'Tommy' before he allowed it to be a movie or go to BRoadway. The Who blazed a trail, and I think that trail is correct. That's why we pretty much follow the road they blazed through the jungle."
O'Neill says the "Beethoven's Last Night" live production, which hits the road March 25 (the 183rd anniversary of Beethoven's [i]real[/i] last night) in Cincinnati, will be visually striking -- with five trailers of lights and scenery, including backdrop cathedral windows housing LED screens -- but not overtly theatrical. "It will be a rock concert," he explains. "It's not sets. There won't be dialogue. It will be a rock band and a narrator and the focus will really be on the music and the piece."
"Beethoven's Last Night" came out in 2000 and has been certified gold. The concerts will be rounded out by songs from 2009's "Night Castle," which debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 in December.
The tour also returns TSO to theaters after spending the past decade or so filling arenas across North America, including more than 1.2 million in 2009. "We know we're underplaying the markets," says O'Neill, acknowledging that some shows sold out or came close to selling out via fan club pre-sales alone. "The band has been in arenas so long, and a lot of cities we easily could've played the arena with this, but since Beethoven didn't have arenas when he was alive, we decided it would be cool to do it in theaters. I love the coliseums, but there's an intimacy you can't really produce in coliseums, not only from the band's point of view but the audience's point of view as well."
Among O'Neill's other ambitions are to find a way to take TSO to outdoor venues, although he vows that the group "will never play in daylight, ever." Also on tap is a new edition of "Beethoven's Last Night" that will add the poetic narration from the album to the CD booklet, and a new TSO album tentatively titled "Romanov: What Kings Must Whisper," a rock opera about the Russia's Bolshevik Revolution in 1918.