Illinois turns 200 on Dec. 3, and there’s a big bash to celebrate.
Festivities will take place at the United Center that evening, the culmination of a yearlong bicentennial celebration.
“We’re trying to pack 200 years of history and entertainment into two hours,” said Stuart Layne, executive director of the Illinois Bicentennial Commission, at a Thursday news conference in Chicago.
The gala will debut an original musical rendition of the Gettysburg Address, a tribute to Abraham Lincoln to be performed by Miguel Cervantes, who stars as Alexander Hamilton in the Chicago production of “Hamilton.”
The program is full of acts to honor all things born and bred in Illinois, including a performance by the rockers of REO Speedwagon, which got its start as a University of Illinois garage band.
Over the summer, Illinois voters picked REO Speedwagon as the state’s top musical act in an online poll, said Kevin Cronin, the band’s frontman, who was born in Evanston.
“I just didn’t know that my mother understood computers well enough to vote so many times,” Cronin joked in a telephone interview Thursday.
Read: Bicentennial Bucket List »
The name Illinois comes from a Native American word meaning “tribe of superior men,” according to the state’s website.
Bicentennial organizers have worked to honor the legacies of the state’s most renowned men and women throughout the years — Lincoln, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey and many more.
The event will be emceed by television journalist Bill Kurtis and will feature hometown talent such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Styx, Buddy Guy, the Chicago Bears, Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee and actor Joe Mantegna.
When Illinois became a state, Chicago was a relatively unimportant city, according to the commission’s website. It’s fitting, then, that bicentennial celebrations have taken Layne and his team to all over the state during the course of the year.
“What I learned is how proud people are to be from Illinois,” he said.
Preparations for the birthday gala began a little more than a year ago, Layne said. All funds for the programming have been raised by donations.
Tickets are on sale at the United Center box office and online at ticketmaster.com for $50 and $75.
Layne said several hundred have sold so far, and he expects the limited number of tickets to go quickly.
Hopefully, he added, the birthday bash “will be one of the most memorable events for the next 200 years.”