Who better to make fun of politicians and their staffs than actual Congressional staff members? That's the idea behind "Capitol Steps," a comedy troupe formed 19 years ago that finally reached Off-Broadway Feb. 5, 1997 at the John Houseman Theatre. Originally intended to close March 23, Capitol Steps extended through June of that year, due to "strong audience demand and critical reception." The troupe then "Stepped" back into the Houseman in July 1998 for "Unzippin' My Doo `Dah," which specially concentrated on President Clinton's dry cleaning woes.
Now the company finishes up its third visit to Off-Broadway, ending its summer run at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre as scheduled, Sept. 2. Performances began June 6 for a June 15 opening, according to the Jeffrey Richards press office and producer Eric Krebs. This edition is titled "It Ain't Over `Til The First Lady Sings," a nod at Hillary Clinton's marital woes and senatorial aspirations.
There are now more than 20 members of "Capitol Steps," with five performing at one time while the others are in rotation. Company members include founding members Bill Strauss and Elaina Newport (aides for Republican Senator Charles Percy), Ann Schmitt (for Republican Senator William Roth), Jamie Zemarel (for Republican Congressman, Harris Fawell), Barie Biern (for Democrat Henry Waxman), and Mike Tilford of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Producer Krebs told Playbill On-Line songs worked on for this installment include a Hillary Clinton medley: ("Don't cry for me Giuliani..."), "Yaketty Yak -- Go Nasdaq," "Hang Down Your Head, Dear Rudy," "It Was A Very Good Year" (for Clinton's years in office) and "It Don't Mean A Thing if You Trade with Beijing." Other bits include Clinton living "Libido Loca," a one-lunged, Philip Morris spokesperson for "Smokemon" trading cards; spoonerisms by Bill Strauss and a college commencement speech by Mike Loomis.
"They write material very quickly," said Krebs. "Some of it bombs, some works. What's going on that day and what can they put in that night. It's 80 percent different material from last time, though we're tempted to go with the last edition's opening, "Circle of Lies," because it was so strong. The Clinton scandals are pretty much over at this point, so we're considering doing a rewritten version with a whole different set of images."
The comedy troupe formed when Strauss and Newport were asked to entertain at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Christmas party. "Unable to find three wise men or a virgin for a nativity play, they decided to dig into the week's headlines and hot topics... Since then, they've been performing in Washington and around the country, satirizing the people...that once employed them." Their output includes 16 records, four released during the Clinton administration. Recordings include "Return To Center," "The Joy Of Sax," "A Whole Newt World," and "76 Bad Loans." Song parodies include "Return To Center (Viewpoint Unknown)" directed at President Clinton, and "Yasser, That's My Bibi," a duet for Yasser Arafat and Bibi Netanyahu.
This is Krebs' third mounting of Steps in New York. "I'd always loved political cabaret, so four years ago, Anne Strickland Squadron and I were in the midst of trying to produce the revue, What's a Nice Country Like You Doing in a State Like This?. We called the Steps for additional material, but it turned out that instead of doing State we did Capitol Steps instead. I invited them back again because this is a great time for them to be seen -- in an election year. They tour about 500 performances annually, but their season slows down in the summer, so I thought it would be the perfect time."
An evening of musical comedy, Capitol Steps changes nightly to keep up with the news. Half-price student tickets are available, both in advance and on the day of performance, at the box office. For tickets ($45) and information call Tele-Charge at (212) 239-6200.
--By David Lefkowitz