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US singer Lady Gaga Image Credit: AFP

Like so much this past year, the inaugural celebration will be like no other: pared down, distanced, much of it virtual. But for actor Christopher Jackson — the original George Washington in Broadway’s ‘Hamilton’ — performing in a virtual ball is a way of participating in an essential rite of American democracy.

“I’m glad to play a part in it,” says Jackson, who will perform at the quadrennial ball for the Creative Coalition, a fundraiser for arts education and one of the more prominent unofficial events surrounding Joe Biden’s inauguration. “It’s a great honour, and I’m very grateful that we have allowed our system to continue to work in the way it was intended.”

Jackson — not to mention former co-star and ‘Hamilton’ creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda — joins a slew of celebrities descending on Washington, virtually or in person, for entertainment surrounding the inauguration of Biden and Kamala Harris.

Toned down affair

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Garth Brooks Image Credit: AP

Although the festivities have been radically scaled down due to the raging coronavirus pandemic and security threats, a steady stream of A-list names have signed on, headlined by Lady Gaga singing the national anthem on the West Front of the Capitol, with Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks contributing musical performances.

Other top-tier performers will be part of ‘Celebrating America’, a 90-minute, multi-network evening broadcast hosted by Tom Hanks that officially takes the place of the usual multiple inaugural balls.

Miranda will contribute a classical recitation, joining musicians like Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Demi Lovato, Foo Fighters, Justin Timberlake and Bon Jovi. Hosts Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria will be joined by basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, chef Jose Andres, labor leader Dolores Huerta and Kim Ng, the first female general manager in MLB history.

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Jennifer Lopez Image Credit: AFP

The inaugural committee has made sure to blend this high-powered list with ordinary Americans and inspiring stories. Segments will include tributes to a UPS driver, a kindergarten teacher and Sandra Lindsay, the first in New York to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial. The show will be carried by major American networks, as well as the committee’s social media channels and streaming partners. Fox News will not carry the broadcast.

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Tom Hanks Image Credit: AP

Beyond that event, there’s also a virtual ‘Parade Across America’ on inauguration afternoon, hosted by actor Tony Goldwyn with appearances by Jon Stewart, Earth Wind & Fire and the New Radicals — reuniting after more than two decades — among many others.

Having a ball

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Eva Longoria Image Credit: Agencies

There’s was also star power on display at the virtual ‘Latino Inaugural 2021’,’ hosted by Longoria and including Broadway and screen star (and EGOT winner) Rita Moreno, Edward James Olmos, and Miranda again, saluting Puerto Rico with his father, Luis Miranda. The show honored members of Latino communities keeping the country running during the pandemic as front-line workers.

Also scheduled was ‘We Are One’, celebrating the Black community and African Diaspora with performances by Tobe Nwigwe, DJ D-Nice, The O’Jays, Rapsody, Step Afrika, the String Queens and others. Also, the AAPI Inaugural Ball: Breaking Barriers celebrating the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities with participants including actors Kal Penn, John Cho, Kumail Nanjiani and Chloe Bennet.

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Kumail Nanjiani Image Credit: NYT

In a normal year, there would be a wealth of sideline events, parties and concerts around Washington. One of the higher-profile events is the Creative Coalition’s ball, going all virtual this year. Along with Jackson, KT Tunstall will perform. Host Judy Gold will kick off with a comedy set, also featuring comedians Randy Rainbow, Michael Ian Black and Wendi McLendon-Covey. More than two dozen members of Congress are set to join celebrity guests like Ted Danson, Lea DeLaria, Jason Alexander, Yvette Nicole Brown, Ellen Burstyn, Alyssa Milano and others.

Jackson, who spoke in an interview late last week while planning his performance, said he would not be appearing as George Washington — but history was on the actor’s mind nonetheless, given the unique circumstances of this inauguration.

“We put ourselves in a perilous position,” he said of recent events roiling the country. “So the idea that this inauguration is happening is testament to the resolute dedication that our public servants have to making this thing work.”