A sizable portion of this year’s National Memorial Day Concert will honor someone missing from the event for the first time in many years.
Gen. Colin L. Powell typically participated in the program, and his passing last October left returning hosts Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise without a professional colleague and a personal friend. They’ll lead a tribute to him during the concert’s annual PBS telecast Sunday — with the show scheduled to return to its traditional outdoor setting of the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., after two years of being staged virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s been a fixture of the show with me,” Mantegna said of Gen. Powell. “When I got my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I had (playwright) David Mamet speak on my behalf, and the other person I asked to speak for me was Gen. Powell. It turned out he couldn’t do it because he was going to be in Iraq to mark the 10th anniversary of the war, but he wrote me this beautiful letter that I have framed over my desk.”
Sinise also had ties to Gen. Powell through his military-supporting, nonprofit Gary Sinise Foundation. “I’m glad that we’re taking the time to feature him and his contributions to the concerts over the years,” the “Forrest Gump” actor said, “and certainly his tremendous service to our country.”
Also slated to appear on this year’s special are actors Jean Smart, Mary McCormack, Dennis Haysbert and Gil Birmingham; Broadway’s Lea Salonga, Norm Lewis and Brian Stokes Mitchell; singer Rhiannon Giddens; country music’s Craig Morgan; “American Idol” alum Pia Toscano; the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jack Everly; and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Armed Forces Color Guard and Service Color Teams.
Though Mantegna is glad the concert will have an in-person audience again, he’s satisfied with the changes the pandemic necessitated. “Especially last year, I thought the show came off fairly well,” the Tony Award-winning “Criminal Minds” veteran reflected. “The first time, we had to scramble. We patched together performances here and there, and Gary and I shot our stuff in his office. The next year, we had the time to really prep, but there’s no equating that with standing on that stage and looking out at so many people.”
Other segments of this year’s National Memorial Day Concert concern a combat medic who served in Vietnam, and a major general and his wife who lost their two sons under differing circumstances. Primetime Emmy and Tony winner Sinise notes he is “never surprised by how strong the writers and producers make this show. They always find things that are representative of what Memorial Day is all about.”