January 1, 2009

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Politically incorrect
Comedy of Capitol Steps comes to Concord
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

The coincidence is the stuff of parody. The political satire group The Capitol Steps will perform at The Capitol Center for the Arts on Saturday, Jan. 10, in the capital city of New Hampshire. OK, so one of the words isn’t spelled exactly the same way, but still, it makes you wonder if perhaps all this Capitol convergence has some sort of profound political relevance, or at least the makings of a song parody.

Known for their politically biting humor, The Capitol Steps were born in 1981 in Washington, D.C., when several staffers for Republican senator Charles Percy — Bill Strauss, Elaina Newport and Jim Aidala — were planning entertainment for a Christmas party. They decided to satirize the very people and places that employed them, and were a big hit, soon playing around the nation’s capital. Though not all of the current members of the Steps — there are 26 of them — are former Capitol Hill staffers, taken together the performers have worked in a total of 18 Congressional offices and represent 62 years of collective House and Senate staff experience. To put it another way: they know politics.

The bulk of the Capitol Steps’ material is in the form of parodies of well-known songs from the past several decades, usually introduced with a short skit. These songs are interspersed with other routines, including a spoonerism routine called “Lirty Dies” that the group generally includes near the end of each performance, running through recent scandals, and of course making many innuendos in the process.

The ensemble celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2006, and in the time since their beginnings in the Ronald Regan era, following with George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, and most recently George W. Bush, United States presidents and their administrations have given the group plenty of material to work with.

However, after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, jokes aimed at the president or at American politics seemed inappropriate to many in the general public, so The Steps canceled most of their performances for the weeks that followed, though they did perform an edited show at a nightclub a few days after the events, with positive results. The group soon found new material in social issues, consumerism and pop culture, skewering SUVs and their drivers, the collapse of Enron, same-sex marriage, Viagra and FEMA.

Though the Capitol Steps are predominantly Republican, the group does make an effort to make their live shows bipartisan, incorporating a fairly even mix of Democratic and Republican songs.

Since they began, the Capitol Steps have recorded 30 albums, including Fools on the Hill, Springtime for Liberals, When Bush Comes to Shove, and their latest, Campaign and Suffering. They’ve been featured on NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS, and can be heard four times a year on National Public Radio stations nationwide during their Politics Takes a Holiday radio specials.

The group won a Wammie Award for “Cabaret/Musical Theater” given by the Washington Area Music Association, was nominated for a 2007 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics, and won the Washington Post’s Best Bets Readers’ Choice Award for Best Live Theater in 2005.

The Steps, now in their 27th year of relentlessly mocking, jabbing, and just basically making fun of anyone they can in U.S. and world politics, seem to have a never-ending supply of scandals, events and issues to keep them going for another two decades. Obama, get ready.