Review by Marilyn Lester
They’ve got a million of ‘em, and thank goodness they do: the Washington, D.C.-based comedy troupe, Capitol Steps, has been dispensing a welcome antidote to scandal and political folly with laugh-out-loud humor for well over 30 years. With a non-stop barrage of one-liners, short monologues and insanely clever lyrics (set to the tunes of familiar songs), the Steps skewer anywhere that skewering needs to happen. No one is safe, from Republicans to Democrats, Presidents, the Supreme Court, world leaders, and on and on.
The Capitol Steps began as a lark in 1981 when a few talented staffers for Senator Charles Percy were planning holiday party entertainment. The rest, as they say, is history. The troupe now has 26 members (and five piano accompanists) – professionals, as well as staffers with day jobs. Among the newest to join, Corey Harris, who dotted the show with several appearances as President Barack Obama, nailed the POTUS speech and gestures to a “tee.” Harris’ first line, a simple, “Hello,” already had the audience roaring with laughter. Ditto when POTUS declared he was pleased to have solved the immigration problem: immigrants, he said, do the jobs Americans will no longer do, such as vote Democratic.
Armed with props, wigs and quick costume changes, five members of the troupe (Bari Biern and Tracey Stephens taking the distaff parts, and Jack Rowles and Mike Thornton, with Harris, the male impersonations), gave the illusion of a cast of thousands. Their fast-paced succession of character sketches included the likes of Senators Rand Paul and Harry Reid; Presidential hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ted Cruz, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; past Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; and Secretary of State John Kerry – portrayed as a hulking Frankenstein-like character, and of whom “Barack Obama” referred when he said he favored the increased use of drones in the Middle East.
Choosing highlights from “How To Succeed In Congress Without Really Lying” is a near impossibility; the material is uniformly sharp, on point and gut-busting funny. But here goes: an open-shirted, swaggering Vladimir Putin with “Putin on a Blitz” (“Puttin’ on the Ritz”); Pope Francis and “Don’t Cry, I’m From Argentina” (“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”); the start-up of Obamacare targeted with “I Don’t Know How to Login” (“I Don’t Know How to Love Him”); a message from “your friends at the NSA:” “I’ll Be Watching You;” and the “The iMpossible iWatch” (“The Impossible Dream”) – the miracle of total electronic access on a one-inch screen.
The penultimate skit of the show is what has become the Steps signature piece: “Lirty Dies,” a magnificent monologue of spoonerisms (reversing the first letters of words), constructed to achieve maximum innuendo, such as the Clill Binton switcheroo, “this must be my ducky lay.” Last, but certainly not least, the entire cast hilariously presented the entire 34-year history of the Capitol Steps in four minutes with “We Didn’t Start Satire” (“We Didn’t Start the Fire”). Kudos to pianist David Kane, who provided two hours of nearly nonstop playing at lightning speed.
The Capitol Steps perform weekly in their home town of D.C., as well as tour and appear on radio and in specials. Lyrics and material, by producer Elaine Newport, Mark Eaton, and the cast, are constantly updated. The longevity of this collective ability and energy is thankfully a matter of record, even if not the Congressional one.
Capitol Steps: How To Succeed In Congress Without Really Lying, May 4, 2015 at 8:00 PM
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