The Capitol Steps
At the Lobero Theatre, Wednesday, May 3.
Reviewed by Karen Leigh
Twenty-five years ago, a group of disillusioned Washington congressional staffers decided they needed a new way to vent their mounting political frustration. From this came the Capitol Steps, a group of singing, satirizing, former aides. In the years since 1981, the Steps’ rotating cast has become a favorite on the D.C. social circuit and recorded six albums of biting lyrical prose — all set to the sounds of great 20th-century standards. This past week, its touring company delighted local audiences at the Lobero Theatre.
Because the Steps’ repertoire is frequently updated to keep up with the times, Santa Barbarans heard two hours’ worth of material largely mocking Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration, and terrorists. The former Iraqi dictator, they sang, is “still crazy after all these years.” Actors playing Donald Rumsfeld and Dubya collaborated on the duet “If I Only Had a Plan [in Iraq],” to the tune of “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz. The Sound of Music standard “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” was rescored as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?” and trilled by Kim Jong Il in full mad-scientist regalia.
Showcasing the Steps’ depth of political knowledge, non-partisan issues were dealt blows. A children’s story, “The House That Jack Bribed,” mocked disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A witty sing-along ad for the Iraq Tourism Board repositioned “On the Sunny Side of the Street” as “The Sunni Side of Tikrit,” capped by — all together now — “what happens in Fallujah, stays in Fallujah.”
It’s difficult to pick the evening’s funniest moment. Was it the four elderly Supreme Court justices, hunched, on their knees, and chanting “Keep us alive! Keep us alive!” to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive,” from Saturday Night Fever? Or was it former Democratic presidential candidates Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry praising Hillary Clinton in “Wouldn’t It Be Hillary,” a riff on the My Fair Lady classic “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”? I’ll go with the PBS television spoof “GOP-BS,” in which children’s character Barney the Purple Dinosaur got slammed by conservatives as a Democratic plot to discredit creationism.
But perhaps the show’s greatest feat was its shameless tackling of serious political issues. Often swept under the rug by self-serving popular culture, issues including illegal immigration, Arabic control of U.S. ports, and censorship were, for two glorious hours, brought front and center. Not that a post-operation Bill Clinton seemed to notice. “Good news for the ladies,” he winked from the stage. “I’m operating with increased blood flow.”