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Real jingle bell rock

Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s third appearance at Alltel Arena is a sellout.

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NORTHERN LIGHTS: Trans-Siberian.
  • NORTHERN LIGHTS: Trans-Siberian.

It's too late to get tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra show. But word is that the folks who waited too late to get tickets to the Dec. 21 show at Alltel Arena may get their choice of two shows next year. With an amazing surge in sales from the first appearance in 2004, which drew about 5,000 fans into Alltel’s lower bowl, to last year’s 12,000-plus attendance to this year’s sellout of slightly more than 14,000 seats, TSO’s Christmas Show has become a runaway hit in Central Arkansas, as it’s been in other major markets.

List TSO today among holiday traditions like mistletoe, eggnog, lights on all the trees, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose.

Guitarist and TSO music director Al Pitrelli, a product of the ’80s rock metal era (he played with Asia, Widowmaker and Savatage and toured with Megadeth), credits “a couple of reasons” for TSO’s popularity in the market.

“The people in Little Rock have really embraced the show, and our promoter (Stone City Attractions in Texas) and the radio and media have really gotten the word out. It’s a real family effort and we’re glad we’re coming back. We’re doing our jobs and people are talking about it after they see it.

“It’s a lot like the old days of rock concerts. Your band came through and drew a few folks and the next time they doubled their audience.”

A Trans-Siberian Orchestra show is two parts: a narrated musical, “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” takes up the first half, with a variety of Broadway-style singers and styles of rock music and traditional carols accompanying a story about Heaven’s youngest angel bringing a runaway child home; the second half is a blend of rocked-out classical and contemporary music and a jam among the band members, complete with a wild light show, fog and pyrotechnics. Also included is TSO’s holiday hit, “Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24.”

“The second half of the show is when we really get to let our hair down,” Pitrelli said. “We try to outdo what we’ve done year after year after year. We go back to arenas and see many of the same people. We’re almost on a first-name basis with some.”

Pitrelli’s wife, Jane Mangini, is one of the two keyboard players, with newcomer Derek Weiland joining on the piano. “He’s got a master’s from Juilliard in New York. This kid, he is Chopin incarnated.

TSO’s Christmas Tour gets started every year at the beginning of November.

“This tour has so exceeded my expectations,” Pitrelli said. “We did this once and had a great record from it and I would have been happy if we hadn’t done any more. But here we are 10 years later and with another record and seven years of touring. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”

Paul O’Neill created the show out of his kitchen, literally, in Queens, N.Y., with Jon Oliva and Bob Kinkel (who leads a second simultaneous TSO holiday tour). Last year, O’Neill made a surprise visit to Alltel Arena and took the stage during the encore.

“He loves strapping the guitar on,” Pitrelli said. “The man invented the whole thing. He needs to share in the excitement.”

Pitrelli and his wife live with their middle son in Pennsylvania, where they have a recording studio in the mountains. During TSO’s off-season, the members also make up a jazz fusion band, O’2L, that travels a couple of months a year, including driving through Arkansas to get to Texas. They’ve yet to stop in Arkansas for a show, but with TSO’s success, that might change in 2007.

“It’s kind of like TSO without the tuxedos,” Pitrelli said. “We do old Jeff Beck or Chuck Leavell kind of stuff. It’s a lot of fun. We play the show in smaller venues, not arenas. We’ve gotta stop there in Little Rock.”

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