The Capitol Steps are on their way to Cincinnati, and they’ll stop at nothing to get audience members laughing as this grueling election year surges forward.
The Steps are a group of Capitol Hill staffers turned political satirists, and no party is safe from ridicule when these performers take the stage. The founding members began writing and performing musical parodies in 1981 when they were still working as senate staffers for Illinois Sen. Charles Percy.
Original member Elaina Newport recalls the beginning of the Steps, a sort of accident she stumbled upon while working as a senate staffer straight out of college. “It just so happened that my boss who was on the council for the subcommittee had written up some ditties and I was like, ‘Well I play the piano — let’s play together for the Christmas party.’ ” The pair was certain they would be asked to stop poking fun at their own employers, but instead received a positive reaction that pushed them to further pursue their passion for performing.
“The main thing that has kept us going over 30 years is that no one has told us to stop,” she says.
The original pair of jokesters has evolved into a cast of 30 members. In the beginning, performers were required to have a professional history on Capitol Hill before joining the group, but such experience is no longer absolutely necessary to be a part of the cast.
The Capitol Steps have released 32 albums to date, the most recent titled, Take the Money and Run for President. The group has multiple casts so they can perform in more than one city at a time — the Washington, D.C.-based group performs in its home city every weekend, but also makes its rounds across the country.
Cast members Mike Thornton, Morgan Duncan, Jack Rowles, Delores Williams, Bari Biern and pianist Howard Breitbard will be “putting the ‘mock’ in democracy” for Cincinnati at the upcoming show Thursday at Mayerson JCC.
The set list is constantly updating and changing along with the most current headlines, but Newport points out some specific additions to the show to watch for. “When we came to our 30 year anniversary, we wrote a song which basically [consolidated] the 30 years in three minutes,” she says. The number, titled “We Didn’t Start Satire,” is performed to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and attempts to touch on every scandalous headline to hit newsstands from the ’80s to today.
“Now that we know that Mitt’s the nominee we have a bunch of new stuff,” she adds. “We have Mitt Romney doing a rap. It’s called, ‘I Like Big Bucks and I Cannot Lie,’ and it’s about how rich he is. I think it’s probably the only place in the country where you can see Mitt Romney do a rap.”
It hasn’t been difficult for Newport and the other Steps to find great new material for the show with the 2012 election just around the corner. She says the news headlines are often funny enough on their own — the best part is taking them to the stage and sharing laughs over the most ridiculous findings.
“And those are the great moments in the show,” Newport says, “That you think, ‘Oh my gosh, does everyone else think that’s as silly as I thought?’ And they do. They do.”
Biern, a Cincinnati native, is looking forward to bringing the Steps’ quirky brand of humor to her hometown as a participating cast member in the upcoming show. Audience members will spot her on stage playing her favorite roles, including but not limited to Janet Napolitano, Sarah Palin, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Nancy Pelosi.
The Capitol Steps isn’t Biern’s only project, however — she’s also a lyricist and opera librettist. After sharing performance space with the Steps in the late ’80s, she knew she had to become a part of the fun.
“I really think this is the greatest job ever,” she says. “I work with fantastic people, I get to travel the country, the show is always changing so I never get bored, and it really keeps the mind alive. And I love making people laugh — that’s the important thing.”
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