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A CurtainUp Review
Capitol Steps: When Bush Comes to Shove
by Macey Levin

Nothing is sacred in the hands of Capitol Steps, the political satire group based in that most convenient of places. . . Washington D.C. They claim to have "put the 'mock' in 'democracy." Currently at the John Houseman Theatre, these five performers harpoon political figures, regardless of wing, lampoon pop culture icons and puncture that big balloon called "the world."

People, Americans especially, have always eased their burdens by viewing the outlandish nature of mankind while momentarily mitigating their own pain and fear. True satire exaggerates institutional foibles and weaknesses with the hope that society will be wise enough to repair itself. It is a serious and sophisticated art form that found its genesis with the Greeks in the plays of Aristophanes and worked its way through Jonathan Swift , Noel Coward, That Was the Week That Was and Mark Russell on PBS. Much of that sophistication is here though a few of the 31 songs and skits are pure shtick. Hysterically funny shtick in some cases, but shtick nonetheless.

Though we live in a perilous time throughout the globe (when didn't we live in a perilous time?) the Steps find much needed humor in airport security, shoe bombs, Enron, and cloning. Of course they feature a hapless but genial George W. Bush who introduces himself by saying, "I'm the president of the United States. On a more serious note -- " Laura, Barbara and Dad Bush are featured along with that temptingly huge target called the Clintons.

By parodying popular songs, especially show tunes, barbs are launched at other major political personalities such as Alan Greenspan, Michael Bloomberg and Strom Thurmond in an intentionally ill-fitting orange wig. Sharon and Arafat sing a harmonious duet in "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, and Michael Jackson are joined by Bill Gates in a salute to "Word," and Dylan gets more exposure in "Cloned."

The show is rife with puns, malapropisms and jokes so bad the audience convulses with hearty laughter. A highlight, actually two, is Mike Tilford's delivery of monologues constructed of clever phrase-conscious spoonerisms. He comments upon national scandals from Bill and Monica to the current controversy embroiling the Catholic Church. These are delivered with objectivity and a winking eye but no malice.

Tilford is joined by Mike Carruthers, Ann Johnson, Tracey Stephens and Jamie Semarel, all of whom are clever mimics with strong musical comedy voices and sharp timing. Their talents are enhanced by the outrageous and simple props and costumes designed by Lindarose Payne . They also receive sturdy support from pianist Ken Lundie.

The skits in the show are subject to change since scandal and tomfoolery raises its enticing head virtually every day, though there are several stock numbers that are at the core of the production. Certainly, Capitol Steps revels in controversy, but sensitivities belong outside the theatre's doors while an appreciation of wit and talent is a prerequisite.

Editor's Note: This little company's brand of wit has become something of an annual event as is evident from the following links to previous Steps shows, dating back to 1997:
1997 Editionl (see also It Ain't Over Until the First Lady Sings and
It Ain't Over 'Till the First Lady Sings

Unzippin' My Doodah and Other National Priorities/Capitol Steps

Conceived, Written and Directed by Bill Strauss, Elaina Newport and Mark Eaton with contributions from the cast and Congress
Cast: Mike Carruthers, Ann Johnson, Tracey Stephens, Mike Tilford, Jamie Zemarel
Pianist: Ken Lundie
Set Concept: R.J. Matson
Lighting Design: Krista Martocci
Prop and Costume Design: Lindarose Payne
Sound Design: Jill B.C. DuBoff
John Houseman Theatre, 450 W. 42nd St., 212-239-6200. Previews from 5/8. Opens 5/16, Closes 8/31; Mondays through Saturdays at 8 PM; Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:30. All tickets $50.00
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Review by Macey Levin based on 5/14 performance

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