The Capitol Steps made its debut nearly 35 years ago, when a now-extinct species known as Moderate Republican still roamed the corridors of Washington and three staffers for Sen. Charles Percy were planning entertainment for the office Christmas party. It was the first year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the founders of what would become Capitol Hill’s answer to Forbidden Broadway — roasting politicians instead of producers — figured that if show-biz personalities could go into politics, then political types could go into show business.
As the no-doubt-apocryphal story goes, the fledgling troupe briefly considered staging a nativity play, but nixed the idea when, “in all of Congress we couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin.” So sayeth Elaina Newport, one of Capitol Steps’ co-founders who continues as a writer and sometimes-performer.
This has been a particularly challenging season for Capitol Steps, who bring their presidential election-year show, “Mock the Vote!,” to the Patchogue Theatre on Saturday night. “Comedy is based on exaggeration,” says Newport, “but how do you exaggerate what’s happening now?”
But exaggerate they did. Early in the primary season, they portrayed the field of Republican hopefuls in song — to the tune of “76 Trombones” — as “76 Unknowns.”
LESSONS IN DYNASTY
As the primary season progressed, the show devolved with the winnowing field of candidates. Newport says she misses Jeb Bush. “He’ll be ready / He’s my brother” segued into a No Child Left Behind riff: “Everybody has to be president sooner or later” in the Bush clan.
“Mock the Vote!” features 30 parodies in song performed by a cast of five — three men and two women — and a pianist. “It’s been said that we have more costume changes than a Cher concert,” says Newport. One scene alone requires changing from Hillary Clinton to Nancy Pelosi to Angela Merkel. On the male side, there’s “The Battle of the Bad Wigs” — Trump vs. Sanders.
Newport doesn’t tour much these days, writing from home or Capitol Steps’ offices in Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from D.C. Evoking her inner Sarah Palin, she exclaims, “I can see the Capitol from my house!”
About half the rotating troupe of 25 performers are former or current Capitol Hill staff members. Until late in Bill Clinton’s second term, Capitol Steps had a hard and fast rule that you had to have been a congressional staffer at one time or another. “But with the craziness of the whole Monica Lewinsky thing,” she says, the Steps had more shows than they could cover. So they started hiring musical theater actors. In 2016, the Steps will do about 500 shows, she says.
After starting out on the Percy staff, Newport later worked for Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, who once complained, “Why don’t you guys ever roast me?”
“We finally did a thing on ‘Senator Pothole’ during an Off-Broadway run,” Newport recalls, citing the mocking moniker of the former Republican senator from Island Park. “We’re bipartisan in our humor. We roast everybody.”