Al Pitrelli, lead guitarist and musical director for the holiday phenomenon known as Trans-Siberian Orchestra, believes that everybody in the audience deserves a perfect first show.
“So, if it’s opening night or if it’s the last show of tour, or if it’s like, the sixth double show on a weekend, maybe you’re tired, maybe you don’t feel well, maybe you’ve got the flu, whatever; as soon as the house lights go down, the stage lights up, and you hear the roar of that audience, it doesn’t matter what you feel like,” he explains. “That’s it, it’s their first show, and it’s my first show at that moment as well.”
It’s that caring philosophy that has TSO rockin’ into its 20th year and winning fresh faces every year. They played to 900,000 last year.
The band, which blends rock, classical, pop and other genres, into a colorful, story-based multi-generational program, makes its annual Pittsburgh stop with two shows Dec. 28 at PPG Paints Arena.
TSO has been called a blend of The Who’s “Tommy” and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera” with Pink Floyd’s light show.
“I think we have to approach every show like it’s our first show. You know, whether it’s beginning, middle, or end of the tour, there’s always somebody in that audience who’s never seen us before, so you’ve got to go out there and give it your all and really, really play this like you mean it,” adds veteran drummer Jeff Plate.
“So a lot of these people are seeing us for the first time, and you have to go out there and you’ve got to put it on the line every minute of the show. Because, you know, your audience, for the most part, is really paying attention. They’re really going to notice if you’re slipping or not. I think that’s why we’ve been able to maintain the audience.”
He adds: “You can’t try to shortchange anybody, that’s the thing, and I think the audience will pick up on that, and it’s something TSO has not done from the first show up till now.”
A lot of smiles
Pitrelli says he knows the show is going well when he looks out in the audience and sees “a lot of smiles.”
“A lot of smiles and a lot of granddaughters hugging their grandpas. And a lot of fists in the air, and a lot of people singing along with the songs,” he says.
The biggest rush of all, says Plate, is just to know that everybody has been connected with TSO for more than two hours, and they don’t want to leave.
“If you’re getting a standing ovation at the end of the show and you know these people are going to come back and see you the following year, that’s what it’s all about,” he says.
TSO has played live to more than 15 million people and grossed nearly $700 million since their first tour in 1999.
It’s said that the group is one of the only acts today that resonates with younger rock music fans as well as older adult contemporary listeners and espouses a positive message for all.
The group will again present “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” featuring the late founder/composer/lyricist Paul O’Neill’s timeless story of a runaway who finds her way into a mysterious abandoned theater. It will include new effects and staging with an all new design from the team handpicked by O’Neill, who died last year at 61.
The rock opera presents such popular numbers as “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” “O’ Come All Ye Faithful,” “Good King Joy,” “Christmas Canon,” “Music Box Blues,” “Promises To Keep” and “This Christmas Day.” A second set showcases more of TSO’s greatest hits and fan-pleasers.
Why people relate
Everybody in the audience relates to the story of the “Ghosts of Christmas Eve” because everybody misses somebody, especially around Christmas, says Pitrelli.
“You know, the short of it is, in Paul’s very Frank Capra-esque tale, there’s a teenage runaway, she’s scared, she’s tired, she’s homeless, she wants to go home,” he explains. “She doesn’t remember what she got in a fight with her parents about, and her parents don’t remember either, they just want their baby girl home, right? And of course, at the end of all Paul’s stories there’s a happy ending.”
There are a lot of tears in the audience as the story unfolds, he says.
“Because whether people have left this planet, whether you just haven’t spoken to somebody because life got in the way, whether you got in a fight, whatever it is, everybody misses somebody,” he says. “And when you share that emotion and you wrap it up in a TSO production, both visually and musically, that’s what this is really all about.”
It is an incredible journey we all have in common, Pitrelli says.
O’Neill’s genius was his ability to take these classical themes, all these holiday themes that everyone has heard since childhood, Plate says, and he was brilliant enough to wed them with some original music and add the rock element to it.
“I’ve been asked many times what my favorite song of the show is, and it is still ‘Sarajevo 12/24’ because it is so powerful. The production during that song in our show is way over the top, everything is going on at the same time. But it is the song that everybody recognizes, you know, you’ve got people air drumming out there, you’ve got fists in the air,” he says.
“At the end of that song, every time we perform it, it’s a standing ovation. And it’s just such an honor, and it’s a thrill, it’s a rush, however you want to put it. But just to know that that song is really what catapulted this whole thing to where we are right now is amazing. I’m just thrilled that the audience comes back every year and they tell people and they bring new people every year, and it just keeps building like that.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra will perform at 3 and 8 p.m. when they return Dec. 28 to PPG Paints Arena, Uptown.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra will weave the musical tale of ”The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” in its return to Pittsburgh.