For four decades, “A Capitol Fourth” has had a cozy place in holiday plans.
It was a choice – a traffic-free, mosquito-free way to catch music and fireworks on the 4th of July. Some years, it was PBS’ most-watched show.
And now? Suddenly, it’s gone from being “a choice” to being almost “the only choice.” With cities canceling fireworks — and with only one other network (NBC) stepping in – “Capitol Fourth” (shown here in a previous year, with Kelli O’Hara) gets a fresh focus.
“So many people have called, wanting to be part of this,” said Michael Colbert, the producer. “We have 15 new performances – the most we’ve ever had.”
He’ll blend things that are live (closing fireworks, hosts John Stamos and Vanessa Williams) with rerun snippets (spectacle from past shows) and those newly taped 15 songs … which are fairly ambitious.
“I’ve done some things since this (COVID shutdown) started,” Kelli O’Hara said. “I’ve done Zoom, in my living room, up against a wall. But this was different.”
That started with the location. “They found a studio, 15 minutes from my home.” She did her make-up in one room, then walked in “sort of all nervous …. They had these beautiful candles set up.”
A small crew (masked and distanced) was there. O’Hara did a powerful “Fire and Rain” for the Memorial Day concert, then a cheerier song (“If I Loved You,” from “Carousel”) for the Fourth.
Also doing songs for both shows were Trace Adkins and Renee Fleming. Both flew to Washington, D.C., to perform in gorgeous, rooftop settings. Still, the Memorial Day show proved that’s not needed. Some of the best moments had CeCe Winans in an empty church or O’Hara among the candles.
And this time? “We had Brian Stokes Mitchell in an empty theater,” singing “Impossible Dream,” Colbert said. In Nashille, Brantley Gilbert did “Hard Days,” a new song that seems to fit the times.
Aiming for emotion, Chrissy Metz (“This Is Us”) sang the Oscar-nominated “I’m Standing With You” as a tribute to essential workers. Then there was Williams, singing Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics – “Not While I’m Around” and “Somewhere.” And the Temptations, celebrating their 60th year.
That means they’re one of the few groups that are decades older than “A Capitol Fourth.”
Colbert was about 12 back in 1981, when the first “Fourth” was produced by his father, the late Jerry Colbert. “I remember standing there, holding my dad’s script and Diet Coke and watching Pearl Bailey singing the National Anthem. I’m still that kid, looking up there in awe.”
Each year, he includes pop and rock (this year has John Fogerty and Andy Grammer) and country (this year, Lauren Alaina, plus Gilbert and Adkins). And like his dad, he’s shown a fondness for the big voices that emerge from gospel (this time, Yolanda Adams), classical (Fleming) and Broadway.
Now he has Mandy Gonzalez from “Hamilton” … and Williams, a Tony nominee … and Mitchell, with four Tony nominations, winning for the “Kiss Me Kate” revival … and O’Hara with seven nominations, winning for the “King and I” revival.
She was last on Broadway a year ago, but also acts in TV series – most recently as a regular on “Masters of Sex” and “13 Reasons Why” – and does concerts. It’s a busy life … or was, until “all of the things I do stopped.”
Now there’s no Broadway, no concerts; TV production has shut down, including an upcoming project with HBO. Her husband, Greg Naughton (the son of actor James Naughton) is also a singer, meaning both have had “a lot of quality family time” lately.
They have a daughter, 6, and a son, 11 – who used to sit with her behind the “Capitol Fourth” stage, watching the fireworks. “It was our secret place,” she said. “I remember thinking how lucky I was.”
Now, like many of us, they’ll simply be watching it on TV.
– “A Capitol Fourth,” 8 p.m. Saturday (July 4), PBS; repeats at 9:30
– “Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular,” 8 p.m., NBC, with highlights repeating from 10-11 p.m. The show will open with a performance by Amanda Gorman (the national youth poet laureate) and will end with the New York City fireworks. In between is music by country’s Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley, plus John Legend, Lady A, The Killers and Black Eyed Peas. Craig Melvin hosts
– “The Fourth in America,” 8 p.m. to midnight ET, CNN. Based in New York and Washington, D.C., this will catch the fireworks in both towns, plus Nashville, Houston and Jacksonville. Music will be from Marina McBride, Carlos Satana, Jewel, Barry Manilow, CeCe Winans, Andy Grammer, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kenny Loggins, Pat Benatar, Don McLean, The O’Jays and more – including orchestras, the Harlem Gospel Choir and the Broadway casts of the Temptations and Bob Dylan musicals.