(This is an updated version of the previous 4th-of-July story, now including NBC and more of the performers.)
Sure, you could consider this year’s 4th-of-July mega-concert to be same-old, same-old.
After all, this is the 41st year for “A Capitol Fourth” on PBS …. and the 83rd year since July 4 became a paid federal holiday … and the 245th since the Declaration of Independence was signed.
But Ali Stroker, one of the performers, feels this time is different. “In the re-emerging, we have the option to make the world we’d like to have.”
She’s emerging from a year on pause. A Tony-winner (shown here on her winning night), she suddenly had no Broadway to audition for, fewer places to perform. “Singing in my bathroom, to my laptop, wasn’t necessarily prime conditions.”
But now comes a grander scope: Atop a Washington, D.C., building – “it’s stunning, you can see the entire city” – she sings “A Million Dreams,” from “The Greatest Showman.” That’s on Sunday, when viewers can catch two Fourth celebrations:
– “A Capitol Fourth,” at 8 p.m. on PBS, rerunning at 9:30. Performances (in Washington, Nashville, California and New York City) include Gladys Knight, Jimmy Buffett, Pentatonix, Train, Cynthia Erivo Auli’i Cavalho and Vanessa Williams (who hosts), plus country’s Alan Jackson, Jennifer Nettles, Mickey Guyton and Jimmie Allen; Broadway’s Stroker and Laura Osnes; opera’s Renee Fleming; and the National Orchestra.
– “Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular,” from 8-10 p.m. on NBC, repeating highlights from 10-11. It will include Reba McEntire, Coldplay, Black Pumas, One Republic and more.
Both will close with fireworks; both will include the Broadway Inspiational Chorus, which is Stroker’s natural turf.
She was the first person in a wheelchair to perform in a Broadway show, then (in June of 2019) the first to win a Tony. Not quite 32, she was atop the Broadway world.
But now –more than two years later – there hasn’t been another Tonycast; a truncated one will be on CBS Sept. 27, as Broadway re-opens.
Stroker, who lives in New York, will finally see the shows she missed when she was onstage. “I’ll be kind of catching up …. I’m so excited for our (Broadway) community.”
And she can launch the next phase of a career that keeps surprising people.
She was 2 when an auto accident left her paralyzed from the chest down. Five years later, a 12-year-old neighbor returned from theater camp and decided to do a neighborhood production of “Annie.” Stroker had the title role, then starred in an elementary-school “Wiz”; she was encouraged by key teachers.
Susan McBrayer, her voice teacher in New Jersey, “believed in me,” Stroker said, and taught that this is more than just hitting the notes. “Singing is emotion; it’s a really beautiful form of expression.”
Rachael Daum had a busy high school drama program, where Stroker did “Les Miserables,” “Pippin,” “West Side Story” and more. “We did five shows a year. The great thing was that if you weren’t in a show, you had to work backstage. I did wardrobe, I did hair, I stage-managed; we learned everything.”
Weren’t there people who told her this was impossible? “Nobody,” she said. Or no one she remembers. “I was so sure and so positive. If they did say it, it didn’t make much of an impression on me.”
She went on to New York University, summer-stock theater at Paper Mill Playhouse and the grind of looking for theater work in New York. Her break was TV’s “The Glee Project”; Stroker was runner-up, did a “Glee” episode, did a few more TV shows, then made Broadway history, in revivals of “Spring Awakening” and “Oklahoma.”
Broadway was semi-ready for her. “The audience areas are accessible,” Stroker said, “but the backstage areas aren’t.” As historical sites, theaters weren’t required to change backstage – but did, for her. “Oklahoma” won Tonys for best musical revival and for Stroker; it had 328 performances, then closed.
And then – just eight weeks later – all of Broadway closed. Like her colleagues, Stroker was mostly out of work. She did a “Blue Bloods” episode and starred in a Lifetime movie that was filmed in Montreal, requiring “all that paperwork and then a two-week quarantine, but it was really worth it.”
Now New York and Broadway are opening up again. Stroker is indefinite about what’s next for her, but on July 4 we’ll hear her sing the movie song written by the guys who also did “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway: “A million dreams is all it’s gonna take/A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”
It’s an anthem for a world that’s starting to re-emerge.
Fourth on TV (Sunday)
– “A Capitol Fourth,” 8 p.m., PBS; most stations will rerun at 9:30. In Washington, D.C., Vanessa Williams hosts, Renee Fleming sings the National Anthem and there will be live fireworks. Also in Washington: Gladys Knight; country’s Mickey Guyton and Jimmie Allen; Broadway’s Ali Stroker and Laura Osnes and the National Orchestra. In Nashville, Alan Jackson; in Califonia, Jimmy Buffett, Cynthia Erivo, Pentatonix and Train; in New York, Auli’i Cavalho at the Unisphere in Queens and Jennifer Nettles in Town Hall at Times Square, backed by the Broadway Inspirational Voices.
– Macy’s “4th of July Fireworks Spectacular,” 8-10 p.m., NBC, repeating highlights from 10-11. Perfomers include Reba McEntire, Coldplay, Black Pumas, One Republic and more. The 25-minute fireworks display will be backed by Tori Kelly singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and other music by the United States Army Field Band & Soldiers Chorus and the Broadway Inspirational Chorus.