There's a lot riding on the ability of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's creator to capture the essence of the Christmas season.

Creator, writer and producer Paul O'Neill said writing the orchestra's three Christmas rock operas was intimidating "because in the entertainment world, Christmas is the Holy Grail."

Luckily, O'Neill found his magic. One of the top touring acts of the past decade, Trans-Siberian Orchestra revitalized the rock opera, selling more than 7 million albums worldwide. They will kick off their 2011 U.S. winter tour on Friday from the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township. Performances will take place at 4 and 8 p.m.

The orchestra combines musicianship with dazzling visual effects as members perform "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," followed by excerpts from their rock theater project, "Gutter Ballet and The New York Blues Express." The goal of this show is to provide a one-of-a-kind escape from the daily grind that will linger with audience members for years to come.

"For the three hours you're in the arena, we're going to throw you so many special effects, so many new songs, so many over-the-top things that you didn't think were possible," O'Neill said. "If we do that job right, when the audience leaves, they're better prepared for the speed bumps they know are coming.

"If we really do our job right, they're prepared for the speed bumps they don't know are coming," he said.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra debuted in 1996 with "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," which went double platinum with almost 3 million albums sold. O'Neill chose to do a trilogy of rock operas about Christmas, drawing on influences like Charles Dickens.

He experienced the magic of the season as a young child in New York City, when he and a friend saw two cabs collide during a snow storm. He and his friend expected to see a fight, but the two drivers got out and exchanged pleasantries, laughing and sharing pictures of their kids before leaving. It was Christmas Eve.

"There's something about Dec. 24 that makes people treat each other differently," O'Neill said. "I was always fascinated by the power of this day."

Performing their special brand of what O'Neill dubs "rock theater," the group is known not only for its musical arrangements, but also elaborate, light-filled stage presentations.

"We spend more on pyrotechnics than all the other bands in the world combined," O'Neill said.

The powerful show has caused some glitches - O'Neill recalled the stage going dark five minutes into a show in New Jersey.

"They came to me and said, 'We just blew the circuit breakers for the Meadowlands,'" O'Neill recalled. "I said, 'Really? Cool.'"

At another show in 2007 in Jackson, Miss., they ended up blowing the power grid for not only the venue, but a quarter of the city.

O'Neill's vision for the marriage of classical and rock music came together in the mid-90s. He wanted to present a third dimension unlike typical rock shows of the day, combining the music with prose to create a memorable tale.

"Each song stands up individually on their own, but when you weave them together in a tapestry, that creates something special," he said.

He found it difficult to choose a name for his pet project - he was in the studio at 6 a.m. one night, when the head of marketing called. The studio executive said if O'Neill didn't have a name by the time he was in his office at 9 a.m., he was going to make one up.

Using a discarded rock opera he wrote about the Bolshevik Revolution, "Romanov: What Kings Must Whisper," as inspiration, O'Neill named the orchestra after the Trans-Siberian Railroad. He saw a parallel between music and the railroad - much as the railroad is the only way travellers can make their way around the frozen tundra, "the only thing (people) have in common, that runs across in relative safety, is music," he said.

Earlier this year, the group was featured in a PBS special, "Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Birth of Rock Theater," which featured live performances from "Beethoven's Last Night" and their most recent album, "Night Castle." They're also working on bringing "Gutter Ballet and The New York Blues Express" to the Broadway stage.

The producer is also riding high after coming off the band's successful first European tour - their London show attracted royalty.

"It's nice to look out there and see somebody you been worshiping your whole life," O'Neill said.

Visit Trans-Siberian Orchestra on the web at, 570-821-2118

What: U.S. tour kickoff shows

When: Friday, 4 and 8 p.m.

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Wilkes-Barre Township

Details: Tickets are $31.50 to $59.50, available at, charge by phone at 1-800-745-3000, and the Pennstar Box Office at Mohegan Sun Arena. General parking $10. Reserved parking is $20.