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Orchestra puts on a spectacle of a show

Bringing their 2011 winter tour to the First Niagara Center, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra performed a theater-rich musical spectacular, including something not often seen inside the arena: Snow -- real snow -- fell upon the audience amid a dazzling array of multicolored lasers. Accompanied by a dynamic rock instrumental, the moment elicited the kind of "ooh-ah" response that might occur at a fireworks display.

There was certainly no shortage of fireworks. Dramatic moments were punctuated with pyrotechnic blasts that ranged from large bursts of open flame to actual explosions. At one point, lead guitarist Chris Caffery had the audience stand up during "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." As he performed a classic heavy metal guitar solo, a barrage of lasers and rapid lighting cues gained intensity with the finger-tapped flurry of notes. Wild cheers erupted as a surprise flash-bang coincided with the final note of the solo. It was a prime example of the theatrical excellence that ran throughout the performance.

For all the exacting choreography and microsecond cues, the performance had a decisive spontaneous element, thanks to the all-out efforts of the performers, including musicians, dancers and vocalist "actors." They put enough energy into their performances to make the spectacle come alive. This was an occasion where the whole was much greater than the individual elements: a total sensory experience, a rare feat of conceptual genius.

Deep-voiced storyteller Brian Hicks gave a presentation rich in dramatic pauses and flawless pacing, reciting the storyline -- a message of hope amid dire circumstances -- over mostly piano accompaniment. Original holiday-themed material was woven together with familiar melodies in one flawless vocal after another, ranging from deeply soulful to soaring Broadway style, all set over a backdrop of intense drumming and flashy guitar riffs. Though heavily indebted to the classic metal of the 1980s, there were elements from almost every style of rock music.

At one point, the immense lighted backdrop evoked a cityscape, and an actor emerged dressed as a homeless man. He gave a poignant rendition of a storytelling ballad, accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. Richly detailed and highly emotional, it held the crowd spellbound: On the edge of their seats, not a single person seemed to move. This touching moment of depth and musicality captivated the audience in a way that is seldom seen.

Also featured were selections that blurred the line between classical and rock music. Familiar themes from well-known symphonic works abounded and were given a bombastic treatment that was both clever and enjoyable. Themes from Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" were interwoven with the melody from his "Symphony No. 25." Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" was set as a power ballad, complete with a scorching guitar solo. The most fantastical was the densely textured rock orchestration of Franz Liszt's "Second Hungarian Rhapsody." Liszt, the first musician to achieve "rock star" status, would have approved.


Trans-Siberian Orchestra

3 and 8 p.m. Tuesday in the First Niagara Center.