Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Features and More

The wizards of awe

Even to the biggest Ebenezers out there, a few holiday traditions refuse to bow to time, like the annual sight and sound explosions of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

If you've never seen TSO's prog-music rock spectacular at Christmastime, founder Paul O'Neill is happy to fill in the blanks. "The best description of a TSO show I ever saw came from a reporter who said the only way to describe TSO is 'The Who meets Phantom of the Opera with Pink Floyd's light show,' " O'Neill said in an email interview.

O'Neill has had a front seat in rock 'n' roll business since the '70s, working with Leber-Krebs Inc., the management company that guided Aerosmith, AC/DC, Def Leppard and the Scorpions during their glory years. From that foundation, O'Neill in the 1990s gave birth to TSO. Each holiday season, the band packs arenas with fans who crave TSO's performance signatures: Light shows that carve up the arena walls, pyrotechnics that could blacken a slice of frozen bread, and music that mixes Ole Saint Nick with arena rock.

TSO returns for a holiday gig today in Tampa. The highlight of this year's show is The Lost Christmas Eve, which will be performed live for the first time. Here are some highlights of O'Neill's interview.

I'm fascinated by your background working with bands and acts like Madonna and Sting. What sort of influence did musicians of that era have on you when you founded TSO?

I was born and grew up in New York City. My main influences had already been strongly established by the time I started in the business and were basically classical music, The Who, Yes, Pink Floyd and the storytelling from the theatrical world of Broadway. I respect Madonna and Sting a great deal, because like TSO, they're constantly reinventing themselves.

Tell me about The Lost Christmas Eve. What were the challenges to staging it compared with other TSO material?

We never intended to tour the first story of the Christmas Trilogy (Christmas Eve and Other Stories) for 13 years in a row, it just kind of happened. In 2012 we decided to change both the summer and the winter rock operas, and some of the people we work with were nervous about making the change. I truly felt the theme of the Lost Christmas Eve, which is hope and redemption, would echo better with our audiences, especially with what's going on in the world today. I was very nervous this year when Lost Christmas Eve opened up, but am thrilled with the results.

For those who make TSO shows a tradition, what new things can they expect?

Besides a completely new narrated story, there are a lot of special effects that we've wanted to use for a long time, and the technology has finally developed for us to use. For the original Beethoven's Last Night we wanted a humongous clock on a pendulum with a video screen and pyro on it, swinging back and forth on the stage. However, it didn't work because of the weight of the equipment and wasn't safe. Technology has come so far that we're now able to make the clock light enough and control it, and the clock is making its first appearance this year.

Comments
6 gift ideas for grandparents and grandchildren to spend more time together

6 gift ideas for grandparents and grandchildren to spend more time together

A grandparent can be a tough person to buy a Christmas gift for. Likewise, many grandparents are stumped on what to get the kids besides some cash. Why not make your Christmas gift something you both want more of: more time together making memories. ...
Published: 12/13/17
Four ideas for edible gifts you can find throughout Tampa Bay

Four ideas for edible gifts you can find throughout Tampa Bay

Carlynn Crosby, Times correspondent Florida Pure Sea Salt Harvested from Tampa Bay’s waters, these handcrafted salts come in flavors like maple bacon, Sriracha, lemongrass, habanero or black truffle. They retail for $15 a jar online, at flor...
Published: 12/13/17
Downtown St. Pete’s 24-hour diner 2nd & Second is open

Downtown St. Pete’s 24-hour diner 2nd & Second is open

Downtown St. Petersburg’s only 24/7 restaurant has opened and doesn’t plan to close, ever. The 2nd & Second diner at the corner of Second Street and Second Avenue N will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week offering a spot f...
Published: 12/12/17
Local Humana honorees are on top of their game at Florida Senior Games

Local Humana honorees are on top of their game at Florida Senior Games

Instead of the old adage "move it or lose it," approximately 2,000 amateur athletes 50 and older celebrated "move it and win it" during the Florida Senior Games, which ended Sunday in Clearwater. They competed in five-year age brackets in a range of ...
Published: 12/12/17
Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Noel Cruz seemed remarkably chill. As did his partner Kerem Koca. All around them in the Station House building in St. Petersburg, workers pounded the last nails, bartenders unpacked boxes of glassware and jewel-toned bottles of Amari, and the kitche...
Published: 12/12/17
Party like it’s Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

Party like it’s Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

As a kid, I always looked for doors into other worlds. I blame Narnia. In C.S. Lewis’ classic novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four British children step through a magic wardrobe into Narnia, a world filled with talking animals and plenty ...
Published: 12/12/17

From the food editor: How to make perfect, hot Crispy Roasted Potatoes

Sometimes, you just want a hot, crispy potato.I didn’t get home from work the other night craving a full dinner; I arrived at my house with cartoon visions of potatoes in my head, and knew I had to make it happen.I wasn’t looking for a fast food fren...
Published: 12/12/17
Cooking challenge: Making homemade edible Christmas gifts

Cooking challenge: Making homemade edible Christmas gifts

Should I infuse this vodka with bacon?That’s not a question I expected to ask myself on a Sunday morning, but here we are. This Christmas, I’m giving homemade gifts: infused liquor and chocolate fudge. But I didn’t realize it would be so hard to find...
Published: 12/12/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 12

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 12

Petula Clark: The two-time Grammy Award-winning artist is known for hits like Downtown, I Know a Place, My Love and I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love. 2 and 7:30 p.m., Central Park Performing Arts Center, 105 Central Park Drive, Largo. $34.50-$49.50....
Published: 12/11/17
Mario Batali on leave from ‘The Chew’ and restaurant empire after sexual harassment allegations

Mario Batali on leave from ‘The Chew’ and restaurant empire after sexual harassment allegations

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story, chef and television personality Mario Batali offered up his views on how to combat sexual harassment in the workplace for an Oct. 30 video for Fast Company."You need a workplace free of fear, that harbors an...
Published: 12/11/17