Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas rockers are branching out

If you go

What: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

When: 4 and 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Covelli Centre, 229 E. Front St., Youngstown

Tickets: $34.70 and $68.50 at the box office.

Place:Covelli Centre

229 E. Front St., Youngstown

By John Benson

Imagine if Don Draper, the fictional advertising whiz kid of TV’s “Mad Men,” were in charge of marketing for Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO). He’d probably say something to the effect that the true appeal of this annual concert tour isn’t the music but the transcendent feeling audiences experience regarding Christmases past, when times were simpler and free of the rigors and responsibilities of adulthood.

But TSO visionaries are attempting to expand the brand outside of the seasonal concert business into other artistic outlets. Though the New York City-based operation did so with its 2000 album “Beethoven’s Last Night” and 2009 effort “Night Castle,” the ante is about to be seriously upped in the near future.

“It’s been a wacky year,” said TSO co-founder Paul O’Neill, calling from the Big Apple. “We did the TSO ‘Last Night/Night Castle’ Tour. We started filming ‘Beethoven’s Last Night,’ the movie. That’s going to be a movie for television, and we’ll finish that whenever I have all the characters cast. From there, we jumped back into the studio this summer to start our new album, ‘Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper.’ It’s a rock opera about the Bolshevik Revolution. It was actually supposed to be TSO’s first album. It was completed in 1993, and some very credible people said it should go to Broadway, but we were never able to bring it to life.

“Also, we have ‘The Gutter Ballet,’ our first Broadway Musical, which is rock-meets-gospel-meets-blues. In fact, the song ‘Believe’ from the second half of ‘Night Castle’ is actually from that musical. And then now the winter tour is starting up, and we’re going to be bigger and better.”

The TSO 2010 tour comes through Youngstown for two shows Wednesday at Covelli Centre. Even though organizers are trying to branch off into different arenas, so far the theatrical rock act’s appeal is tied to its holiday trilogy — 1996’s “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” 1998’s “The Christmas Attic” and “The Lost Christmas Eve” — which when presented live combines the bombast of Pink Floyd with the reverence of Charles Dickens for what is arguably the biggest Yuletide phenomenon of the past decade.

TSO came together in 1995 when producer-composer O’Neill, whose credits include Aerosmith and Savatage, got together with producer-writer Robert Kinkel and songwriter-singer-musician Jon Oliva to create something new for the Christmas season. The result was the uplifting song “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” which originally appeared on the Savatage album “Dead Winter Dead.” That’s when things really took off for TSO.

“With the Christmas trilogies, we thought it would do OK, but we never thought it would become as big as it did,” O’Neill said. “It’s actually a bit scary. It’s like we walked into a Tchaikovsky, like he thought ‘The Nutcracker’ as just another ballet. He never thought it would be intertwined into the holidays. So it’s been a blessing but also a little bit of a problem. TSO exists for the fans. And when we forget that, that’s when the band starts to deteriorate. So we try to tour this thing every year, but in rock there’s always been a rhythm, which is you write a record, record a record and tour for a few years. With TSO, because of the winter tours, we have to shut down recording in the studio and go into a different zone and build the new production for the winter tour. It’s a good problem to have, but the single thing I need the most is time.”

Finally, the $1 million question is whether O’Neill can ever imagine TSO ‘s taking a Christmas touring season off?

“No,” he said after a long pause. “My brain is going, ‘Say yes; you need sleep,’ but we just don’t want to let the fans down. So many people have been so patient and kind and allowed it to develop. And I learned a long time ago to never try to predict the future, but as of now, there are no plans to ever let it stop.”

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