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Musical troupe sings about politics

BY JULIA JESSEN | FEBRUARY 16, 2012 6:30 AM

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Seeing actors portraying President Obama, the speaker of the House, a Transportation Security Agency agent, and Muammar Qaddafi on stage together singing and dancing seems like the far-fetched fantasy of an insane person.

But that will be a reality when the Capitol Steps performs at 8 p.m. Friday in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.

The Capitol Steps is a singing troupe made up largely of former Capitol Hill staffers who satirize the current events and politicians through song. Troupe members said they prefer performing this political comedy rather than dealing with the current political atmosphere.

"I miss some of the camaraderie on the Hill, but I left back in '96 or '97, when there wasn't the partisan sniping, and it just seems like nobody can get along on anything these days," said Mark Eaton, a writer for the group who joined in 1993.

The group started as the entertainment for a Senate office Christmas party in 1981. The performers thought they would do a few songs and make fun of their bosses, and then it would be over.

"We thought they would tell us to stop or fire us or both, but they didn't, and it's been 30 years, and we're still going because nobody told us to stop," said Elaina Newport, a founding member and writer for the group.

There is never a shortage of material for the Capitol Steps, especially during an election year such as this one, when so many new characters have been showered by the spotlight.

"One thing I think that's fun about the Capitol Steps is it focuses on current events, specifically political satire, and we're in the midst of the Republican nomination and soon, the presidential election in November, so they're going to be focusing on really timely content in a hilarious way," said Nathan Gould, the Englert marketing associate.

The troupe members said the only bad thing about the election year is the change in the cast of characters — politicians keep dropping out of the race.

"On the one hand, you've got all these great characters coming along, and then you get attached to them," Newport said. "On the other hand, like Rick Perry, and then they drop out, and you get very sad."

Being part of the group causes its members to look at the headlines in a different way from most people.

"You do get up in the morning, and you listen to the news, and you don't think, 'Is this good or bad for the country,' " Newport said. "You kind of think, 'Is this funny and what rhymes with it.' "

Eaton said the Capitol Steps provides comic relief from the perceived weariness that accompanies watching the political melodrama play out.

"If you don't laugh at some of these issues and some of these guys, it could absolutely drive you crazy," he said. "So give your brain a little vacation and just kind of laugh at these guys and have a good time."

Newport said the show is distinctive in its characters and its format.

"Imagine seeing Joe Biden sing a rock song, Barack Obama sing a show tune, and Newt Gingrich do a classical ballet," she said. "That you cannot see anywhere else."


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