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PBS to air a ‘massive birthday party’ to celebrate Fourth of July

Updated: July 3, 2012 8:54PM

With Tom Bergeron joining the festivities, PBS’ annual Independence Day celebration might be considered “Singing With the Stars.”

The “Dancing With the Stars” host will anchor public broadcasting’s “A Capitol Fourth” (7 p.m. Wednesday on WTTW-Channel 11, with a repeat at 8:30), the 90-minute July 4 spectacular from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building.

“The opportunity to be the host, on live TV, for the nation’s biggest birthday party was just too good to pass up,” says Bergeron, who will appear before hundreds of thousands on the National Mall at the Capitol as well as millions more on TV. “It’s a live show with great talent performing, much like we do every week on the dancing show.”

Growing up, Independence Day “was a time of family gathering. Especially as the years pass and some of those family members are no longer with us, it becomes even more nostalgic,” he says. “That’s the fondest memory I have [of the holiday], which is why I’m really looking forward to the spectacle of this massive birthday party, this massive family gathering in Washington. I think it’s going to be quite a night.”

Performers include “American Idol’s” Phillip Phillips, in his first public performance since winning the title and undergoing kidney surgery; Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara from Broadway’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It”; “Smash’s” Megan Hilty; country singer Josh Turner; “The Voice” winner Javier Colon; “Glee’s” Amber Riley. and Kool & the Gang.

Gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno will host a tribute to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams that features John Williams conducting his Olympic Fanfare, and the National Symphony Orchestra will play a medley commemorating the late Gene Kelly’s 100th birthday. A huge fireworks display, tracked by 20 cameras, will cap the celebration.

Executive producer Jerry Colbert, who is putting on the show for the 33rd time, says a celebration not only feels right, but has historical precedent.

“I think that people want to have a party on the Fourth of July,” he says. “That’s what John Adams said in 1776, [that] we ought to have a big party with fireworks and bonfires and races to celebrate this special day. So here we are, sitting on the lawn of the Capitol, like they were in Philadelphia in 1776, continuing that tradition. People appreciate it.”

Colbert says he tries to arrange entertainment that provides something for everyone. Earlier celebrations featured such performers as Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, Gloria Estefan and the Beach Boys.

The event brings people together, he says. “There’s so much division right now in the country ... but for an hour and a half, everybody is an American, having a great time, celebrating the Fourth of July, celebrating our freedom and celebrating how lucky they are to live in this country. No Republicans, no Democrats, whatever. We’re just Americans at that moment. That’s something special to me.”

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