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Politics and satire take center stage with Capitol Steps and this year’s Mock the Vote performance.


  • Michael M. Reyna

To the music of Meredith Willson’s “Seventy-Six Trombones,” the cast of Capitol Steps sing about the 2016 election: “Seventy-six unknowns will be candidates, with 110 more set to declare…” The troupe performs political comedy using musical parody and satire, and since its inception in 1981, it has recorded close to 40 albums.

“Our origin is an odd story,” said Elaina Newport, a founding member and writer. “We were just doing entertainment for an office Christmas party, and we really thought someone would tell us to stop, but 34 years later, they still haven’t.”

This year’s show, Mock the Vote, whirls through Oklahoma City Community College’s Visual and Performing Arts Center Theater on Aug. 22.

The original troupe worked for Senator Charles Percy, R-Illinois, and it was his blowout that gave birth to the Steps. For many years after, the group required that its members be current or former Capitol Hill staffers, but Newport said restrictions loosened in 1996.

“Bill Clinton was giving us such good material that we had to expand,” she said. “We added writers and singers, and now, we’re about 50/50 in terms of staffers and non-staffers.”

Newport was a piano major in college, so she played keys at the first event. Each show includes at least five performers, and one is always behind the black-and-whites. Newport still performs across the country.

Member auditions are a mixture of conventional and odd.

“They usually show up with three songs to sing, which is pretty standard in music auditions,” Newport said. “When they finish the first song, rather than ask for another, we typically say, ‘That was very nice. Now sing it like Kim Jong Un.’ That’s what they actually have to be able to do, after all.”

Capitol Steps shows are bipartisan, as the group lampoons all parties with pride. As many polls show Donald Trump leading the GOP candidate race, performers also ready their arsenal of wit. Some do make easier targets than others, Newport admitted.

“We already have the hair,” Newport said. “We have covered him before, like when he threatened to run in 2012. If he ends up winning the primary, we will have material. If he starts a third party, we will move from bipartisan to adding a third.”

The songs are always parody — Weird Al Yankovic style — which is to say the group writes the lyrics but borrows the tunes, like they did with “Seventy-Six Unknowns.” With more than 700 songs recorded, that model makes a lot of sense.

“We had to do something with all these candidates,” Newport said.

The company also occasionally tackles pop-culture topics, such as the recent release of Apple Watch, set to “The Impossible Dream (The Quest).” Mainly, though, it focuses on gleefully skewering politicians and policies.

Capitol Steps shows contain about 30 songs and run about 90 minutes.

Newport said shows can be bawdy but aren’t coarse and are rated PG-13, as is fitting in musical satire. Newport said mature teenagers who understand politics will get the show but it’s probably too obscure for children and adolescents.

Print headline: Parody parity, Politics and satire take center stage with Capitol Steps and this year’s Mock the Vote performance.

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