The Capitol Steps put the ‘mock’ in ‘democracy’

Capitol StepsBY PETER HUMMERS, OUTER BANKS SENTINEL | It was clear that the Capitol Steps‘ satirical revue was going to be special soon after they were introduced to the audience at the Outer Banks Forum for the Lively Arts Saturday evening.

As their accompanist sat silently at his piano on an otherwise bare stage, a disembodied voice announced: “Ladies and gentlemen: Welcome to this performance of the Capitol Steps. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the emergency exits located around the room. In the event of an emergency, please remain seated and wait for a federal bailout.”

It didn’t let up after that. “Joe Biden” came on stage, introducing himself: “Hello, I’m Vice President Joe Biden, and I’ve been asked not to speak in public. But here I am.”

The Capitol Steps were formed in 1981 when 3 staffers for Senator Charles Percy were planning entertainment for a Christmas party. Their website states, “Our first idea was to stage a nativity play, but in the whole Congress they couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin!”

They went on to produce dozens of albums, appearing on “Good Morning America,” the “Today Show,” “20/20,” “Entertainment Tonight,” “Nightline,” CNN’s “Inside Politics,” and dozens of times on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

Today the entire troupe numbers 25, with five pianists. Five members and their accompanist came to the First Flight High School with skits and song parodies Saturday, leaving the audience helpless with laughter for most of the evening.

Using simple costumes, wigs and vocal mimicry, they left no doubt as to who was onstage at any time. “Nancy Pelosi” and a disheveled “Harry Reid” (“Our master of race relations”) joined “Vice President Joe” for a song about the bailouts, “Return to Spender,” to the tune of an early Elvis song.

The songs and skits segued seamlessly from one to the next, the cast members running onstage and off (to change costumes) while their pianist handled the musical transitions. The musicality of the group was top-notch; everything from solos to four-part harmonies were assayed with confidence and their accompanist never put a note wrong.

The mimicry ranged from very good to brilliant, and all the material was just side-splitting. All points of view were skewered; some politicians and cultural heroes and heroines presented larger targets than others, but both sides of the aisle were well-represented (Sarah Palin and the Clintons, for example).

An inmate of Guantanamo in a beard and orange jumpsuit, anticipating his release, sang, to the tune of the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” “But I need a job and I want to be a taxicab dri-ver.” “Sarah Palin” said hello “to the great state of Kill Devil Hills” and gave her regards to the many people who have encouraged her to run for president “in oh-twelve. Now of course, many of them are Democrats, but – you betcha!”

The material was also up-to-the-minute. A cast member came onstage to sing about a well-known televangelist and his reaction to the Haitian earthquake, to the tune of the popular Simon and Garfunkel song from “The Graduate,” “And here’s to you, Reverend Robertson; Jesus doesn’t even watch your show – no, no, no…”

The centerpiece of the evening was the traditional Steps piece, “Lirty Dies,” a monologue about the year-that-was, told as if by Reverend Spooner, the Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notorious for inadvertantly switching the initial consonent sounds in pairs of words, and who once allegedly said, in a toast to Queen Victoria, “Three cheers for our queer old dean!”

With its rapid delivery, “Lirty Dies” provided a sometimes surprisingly apt surreal commentary and subtext together about current newsmakers. While much of it can’t be printed in a family newspaper (for instance, what “follow their hearts” becomes), but it was all stupendously funny (or fupendously stunny). By the way, the Steps have posted words and recordings to many of their past “Lirty Dies” on their website, along with a lot of other content.

Tiger Woods (“Lie of the Tiger”), Lou Dobbs, representatives of the Big Three auto companies, John Edwards, Mark Sanford (“What happens in Ar-gen-tina, should stay in Ar-gen-tina” to the tune of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”), Michael Jackson, the Clintons and Bushes, Obama and the cult of Oprah, all provided grist for the mill, and very grunny fist it was.