Ann Johnson, Mike Tilford, and Tracey Stephens inCapitol Steps: Between Iraq and a Hard Place(Photo © Richard Termine)
Ann Johnson, Mike Tilford, and Tracey Stephens in
Capitol Steps: Between Iraq and a Hard Place
(Photo © Richard Termine)
The Forbidden Broadway of politics, Capitol Steps is back in New York this summer at the John Houseman Theater to tickle and tackle the headline stories of our time. Chances are you won't be interested in this unless you read the occasional newspaper (and not just the entertainment section) but, in fact, all one needs to enjoy this gently satiric revue is a very basic knowledge of current events.

That goes for the latest edition, titled Between Iraq and a Hard Place. If you know that George W. Bush is considered by many people to be an idiot, that Vice President Cheney has a heart condition, and that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy, you'll probably be hip to most of the jokes -- and you'll laugh at them, because the good news is that the jokes are smartly written and cleverly presented.

Song parodies make up the bulk of the show's material, and most of them are based on famous show tunes or readily recognizable pop hits. For instance: In "Korea," sung to the melody of "Maria" from West Side Story, we hear Dick Cheney give the President a geography lesson about the world's latest nuclear threat. When Bush can't remember the name of the country, Cheney whispers with ever-increasing urgency: "Korea, Korea, Korea!"

Of course, there are plenty of anti-French jokes here -- the comic equivalent of shooting les poissons in a barrel. Nonetheless, they are right on target. And a little good-natured xenophobia isn't so terrible, especially since the characters making the jokes -- e.g., Bill Clinton -- are subject to ridicule as well. No major issues or famous foes are neglected; so, for example, we get Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon singing "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with a new lyric specific to their co-dependent relationship. There are also jibes at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party, and even SUVs. Happily, these jokes are genuinely fresh and not at all repetitive.

A caveat: Having compared Capitol Steps to Forbidden Broadway, we should note that this political sendup show is never as deliciously dicey as the Great White Way spoofs to be found in Gerard Alessandrini's long-running series. The comedy in Capitol Steps is fundamentally mainstream. If FB goes for the comic jugular, this show inflicts flesh wounds; it can be bloody funny, but it's never really dangerous. Of course, you don't see a lot of hard-hitting political satire in today's theater. Given that Jackie Mason is the major theatrical purveyor of such humor these days, Capitol Steps should be lauded for keeping alive a valued but increasingly scarce form of entertainment.

Conceived, written, and directed for maximum comedic value by Bill Strauss, Elaina Newport, and Mark Eaton, the show features a capable cast of former congressional staffers that includes Mike Carruthers, Kevin Corbett, Morgan Duncan, Ann Johnson, Elaina Newport, Bari Sedar, Tracey Stephens, Mike Thornton, and Mike Tilford.