IF YOU GO
What: The Capitol Steps.
When: 8 p.m. April 6, and 4 and 8:30 p.m. April 7.
Where: The Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia.
Info.: www.kimmelcenter.org, (215) 893-1999.
Their 41st album of topical song parodies is titled “Orange is the New Barack,” with titles like “Oops, I Tweeted Again,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alt-Right” and “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?”
Always bipartisan when it comes to their political satire, The Capitol Steps began in 1981 as a group of U.S. Senate staffers that boldly decided to poke fun at the people that employed them, to their faces, at a Christmas party. They attracted media attention so quickly that for a while they declined to give interviews, fearful that they’d be fired by their boss, former Illinois Senator Charles Percy.
A student at the University of Maryland before landing her job with the senator, Capitol Steps founding member Elaina Newport grew up in Upper Darby. She joked that Percy was “one of those Republican moderates you don’t see in the wild,” and said that instead of telling them to stop, Percy appreciated the humor in their skits and songs.
“Thirty-five years later, nobody’s told us to stop,” Newport said, adding that one of the few politicians she remembers giving them grief was former New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato. It was because they did not do a song about him.
It also turned out that several Presidents were also able to laugh at themselves at Capitol Steps shows — especially George H.W. Bush. “He invited us to perform a lot. Of all the Presidents, he was the one that was the most into it,” Newport said, adding that Bush enjoyed Dana Carvey’s “Saturday Night Live” impressions of him.
In 2001 The Capitol Steps, as well as all of the late night comedians, had to tread lightly in the days after 9/11. Newport said that they ended up following Jay Leno’s lead on when it was safe to make George W. Bush jokes again. “We just try to be a diversion,” Newport commented.
The Capitol Steps have never had Barack Obama or Donald Trump attend a show, however. “I couldn’t tell you how Trump would like it. I’d like to think he’d like it bigly,” she quipped.
Their upcoming April 6-7 performances at the Kimmel Center will feature Jamie Zemarel as Trump, Brad VanGrack as Vermont Senator and 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Obama impression specialist Jon Bell, Tracey Stephens, Delores King Williams and pianist Dave Kane.
These days, the cast is half former Capitol Hill staffers and half Washington D.C. area actors and singers. “The auditions are very interesting. Somebody will come in and sing a beautiful song like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ and we’ll tell them: ‘Now sing it like (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un would sing it’,” said Newport.
With Twitter and a 24-hour news cycle, keeping their show content up to date can be difficult. “It’s tough. The news cycle is so fast now. I’m not above texting a performer while they’re waiting to go on stage,” Newport said.
When asked if there are any jokes that have had a long shelf life, she mentioned “Puttin’ on the Ritz” parody “Putin on a Blitz” — “He keeps getting re-elected,” she said of Russian leader Vladimir Putin — and anything related to disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. “Anthony Weiner will be funny for the next hundred years,” said Newport.
The never-ending theme of Capitol Steps shows: “One side messes up, the other side parties. The other side messes up, the other side parties — it’s the two-party system,” Newport said.