For many in Northeastern Pennsylvania, it’s just not the holidays until the Trans-Siberian Orchestra comes to town.
The popular heavy-metal band and symphony orchestra hybrid, with its truckloads of lights, lasers and pyrotechnics, made its annual trek to the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Friday. As always, TSO attracted huge crowds, pretty much selling out a 4 p.m. matinee and the 8 p.m. nightcap.
This year’s show included a complete performance of “The Lost Christmas Eve,” part three of the band’s Christmas trilogy that first appeared in 2004, reportedly for the final time as the band moves on to other projects. The rock opera that tells the story of a businessman being visited by an angel and ultimately reconnecting with the mentally challenged son he abandoned years before was written by TSO founder Paul O’Neill with music by O’Neill, Robert Kinkel, Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli.
The curtain for Friday’s 8 p.m. show was held for about 15 minutes as arena staff worked diligently to usher in one crowd of thousands while the first crowd was exiting, but the wait was worth it as the band started off with “Time and Space” before beginning the story with “Faith Noel,” its mashup of “The First Noel” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Narrator Bryan Hicks was outstanding as usual as he dramatically told the story while as many as nine singers took center stage in both solo performances and in various combinations. Singers including Natalya Rose Piette, Erika Jerry, Kayla Reeves and Rob Evan shone brightly on tunes such as “For the Sake of Our Brother,” “Back To A Reason,” and “What Child Is This.”
Evan paused in the middle of “What Is Christmas?” seemingly perplexed as he sang, “I’m in a town in Pennsylvania I cannot pronounce.” He then led the crowd in a humorous call and response of “When I say ‘Wilkes,’ you say ‘Barre.’”
Instrumental highlights included the always dazzling “Wizards in Winter,” “Siberian Sleigh Ride” and “Christmas Canon Rock.”
The huge video screen was a marvel as it morphed from the brick façade of a toy shop with six picture windows to a hospital with lights going on and off in its various windows to other buildings as the story progressed. The lights, lasers and pyrotechnics were a state-of-the-art bedazzlement as always. Just when you think the masterminds of TSO can’t possibly top their previous achievements, they do it again effortlessly.
Hicks got a huge ovation as he brought the story to a close with, “It is never too late to change any life’s ending” and a hearty “Merry Christmas!” that echoed throughout the arena in his booming, distinctive voice.
Guitarist Chris Caffery acted as the group’s spokesman as he introduced his band mates including string master Roddy Chong, drummer Jeff Plate, bassist Dave Z, guitarist Joel Hoekstra, keyboardist Luci Butler and keyboardist and musical director Derek Wieland. As always, the core group was augmented by a contingent of strings from local symphony orchestras.
The second half was just as dazzling as the band quickly and seamlessly went through a collection of its greatest hits including fan favorites from the album “Night Castle” and “Nutrocker,” the rocking version of “The Nutcracker Suite.”
Especially good was the orchestra’s version of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” from 2000’s “Beethoven’s Last Night,” with fire shooting out of all corners of the stage.
“We’ve been on the road for 15 years and we wouldn’t have lasted 15 minutes without you,” Caffery said as the band launched into the always uplifting “This Christmas Day” from 1996’s “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.”
The show came to a spectacular close as TSO pulled out all the stops both visually and aurally for “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” the orchestra’s first and best-known success.