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A CurtainUp Review

Capitol Steps

There's no doubt about it. The five members of the Capitol Steps who've taken up residence at the John Houseman theater for the next six weeks, know how to twist a popular musical tune to puncture the balloons of pretense of the highest and mightiest. All are former Congressional staff members so, while they'll cheerfully take a stab at anyone within reach of their verbal swords, bigwigs inside the capitol's Beltway are the favorite targets of the below-the-belt satirical lunges (conceived, written and directed by Bill Strauss and Elaina Newport).

Mike Tilford has fun playing Bill Clinton as a hip swinging Elvis Presley. Elaina Newport takes on Hillary. Bill Strauss spears the more vociferous of New York's senators, who according to the show's founding members, (Newport and Strauss), complained about not being part of their past roasts. If these and their other press stories are to be taken seriously, Capitol Steps is one of those shows open to last minute improvisations on breaking news. However, these claims to add-as-you-go script changes are always a somewhat hollow pretense since the very best numbers are invariably those that are carefully staged, rehearsed and precisely timed. Capitol Steps is no exception. Their most popular routines may change from political season to political season--for example, the very funny Phantom number once sung by Dole is now done by Speaker Newt-- but to scan in new rhymes to a song requires far too much prep time for overnight changes.

The Hillary Clinton "Shamlet" sendoff is also funny enough to remain on the program to the end of this administration, and possible given some twists to work for the next. The same holds true for the Steppers' penchant for word play, particularly their punched-up backward talk. The two backward talk segments in the current show--one focusing on O. J. and and one on that "gorny huy" Bill Clinton-- sent the audience into peals of laughter. Which brings us to a problem.

These amiable vivisectionists are good for a few belly laughs and lots of loud chuckles, but two hours of their hi jinks is something of a stretch. There are times when the audience laugh meter at the performance we attended stood dangerously still. While the R. J. Matson has turned the stage into a bright bit of Americana, this production still feels more like the probably much shorter shows the four rotating groups have done so successfully for parties, association meetings and conventions. Maybe world leaders--or mis-leaders-- just don't add up to quite the full satirical meal as show business has provided for Forbidden Broadway. >

While you can't argue with the success that has kept the Steppers going and growing for fifteen years--(famous groups like Beyond the Fringe, Second City and That Was the Week That Was didn't last that long)--the ideal setting for any of these political musical satires work best in a shorter format and in a non-theater setting. The show does have other as yet unmentioned on-target bits- such as the "Don't cry for me, I'm not Anita" (from Evita) and the Angry Feminist reading from "Unappreciated Primary Care Giver." However, like so many other such satires it tends at times to degenerate into college pranks both in the visual humor and the heavy reliance on punning

All this said, this is a savvy bunch and if they can live up to their claim to change material on the run, especially to beef up the New York City material, you may just laugh for the whole two hours when you go and call this reviewer a "lirty diar."
Conceived, written and directed by Bill Strauss and Elaina Newport
with contributions from the cast and Congress
Company: Mike Carruthers, Janet Davidson Gordon, Ann Johnson, Mike Loomis, Tyjuana Morris, Elaina Newport, Bill Strauss, Mike Tilford, Brand Van Grack, Amy Felices Young, Jamie Zemarel (company alternates, 5 per show)
Set Design: R. J. Matson
Lighting Design: Bob Bessoir
Prop and Costume Design: Robyn Scott
Sound Design: Maryanne Mundy
Opened February 1997; closed 6/29/1997 after 7 previews and 152 regular performances
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

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