Balls of fire shoot from the stage. Snowflakes drift from the rafters. Laser lights carve colorful images in the air.
A long-haired guitarist dashes across the stage, unleashing a torrent of head-rattling riffs. A string section sends classical harmonies wafting through the air. A throaty rock singer belts out a song, a soprano sings an aria, a Broadway diva croons a tune, and a tuxedo-clad narrator spins a captivating tale.
A Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert is jammed with action, energy, and imagination.
And the visual and aural entertainment just keeps growing, as the group will demonstrate when it returns to the SeaGate Convention Centre Monday night for its Winter Holiday Tour 2005.
"It's like every year the question is how to up the ante," said Bob Kinkel, one of the show's composers and producers. "We kind of set the bar extremely high, and then to nudge it up even a little takes quite a bit of work."
What more can fans expect from the latest tour by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (which, for the uninitiated, has nothing to do with Siberia)?
"We have a lot of new toys every year, and other musical stuff going on, too," Kinkel said from Florida, where the group performed a benefit show for hurricane victims before embarking on the tour.
"This year, it's just amazing. We have a new technology that makes the flames change color while they're going through the air," he said. "And the lighting trusses, which moved a little bit last year, well they really move around this year and change shape. And we've got more lights now than in any other previous tour."
The number of onstage performers also has been increased from 21 to 23, he said. And in order to reach as many cities as possible during the seven-week holiday season, TSO organizers in 2000 formed separate East and West casts that take the show to different regions of North America.
"It's kind of mind-boggling to see how it's grown," Kinkel said. "I remember the first tour, we did seven shows in 1999. Now we have over 100 between the two coasts. When we started, we had one semi truck with all the lights and sound, one tour bus for the crew, and one for the band. Now we have seven semis, three tour buses for the band, and three for the crew. It's amazing sometimes when you're walking outside the venue and think, 'Whoa, this is all us!'●"
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra sells more than 500,000 tickets and 1 million albums annually, and according to Billboard magazine outdrew all other tours except the Eagles during a six-month winter-spring span.
The first half of the TSO's Winter Holiday concerts will feature songs from the group's multi-million-selling holiday discs - including its breakthrough 1996 debut disc, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," in its entirety, Kinkel said.
The second half of the show will include tunes from both holiday and nonholiday releases, including its 2000 classical-rock opera "Beethoven's Last Night," at least one song from its forthcoming release, "Nightcastle," plus a few surprises like last year's cover of Led Zeppelin's soaring rocker, "The Immigrant Song."
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra was formed in 1996 by Paul O'Neill, who, after coming up with the concept, recruited Kinkel and Jon Oliva to help write the music and lyrics.
Kinkel said the three founders have since written a Broadway-style musical titled Romanoff, When Kings Must Whisper, and have discussed other options for Broadway. For now, however, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is focusing on its Winter Holiday Tour 2005.
"First and foremost," Kinkel said, "We're a rock band. We love to go out and play live."
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs at 7:30 p.m. Monday in SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave. Limited single tickets are available for $32.50 and $43.50 from the box office, 419-321-5007; Ticketmaster, 419-474-1333, or www.belkinproductions.com.
Contact David Yonke at: