If witty wordplay and clever concepts is your thing, the Capitol Steps is for you. Enjoy the perfect pairing of "Harper Valley PTA" to the GSA's wild party in Las Vegas, or the innuendo of George W. Bush and Rick Perry ("Bush 2.0") warbling "Rhinestone Cowboy" together. "Hello," the opening number to Broadway's The Book of Mormon, was a perfect venue for introducing the Republican candidates. Using the Schoolhouse Rock song "I'm Just a Bill" to tackle the legislative war on women's sexuality spawned such zingers as "elephant in the womb," "morning-after politics," and "sausagefest" when referring to the all-male congressional panel on the topic.
But if you're looking for great voices and stage enthusiasm, you won't get a lot of that in this version of the Capitol Steps road show at the ATT Performing Arts Center's Wyly Theatre, which repeats Saturday night. It's not that the bemused detachment of the lyrics has to reflect the emotions most people feel about political and social scandals, but a little emotional investment in the words would've gone along way to making the show something more than a soft, pricey way to fill two hours.
Cast member Jack Rowles may not have the pipes, but he's got the most stage snap and exhibits a stand-up comedian's sense of timing and skill at audience cajoling. As the only BWG (basic white guy) in the road bunch, he enjoyed a lot of stage time playing Biden, Bush, Gingrich and Romney. He absolutely aced one of the night's funniest pieces, a tsunami of spoonerisms called "Lirty Dies" detailing the issues as we "lamp up to a major erection" and lamenting that for a while candidates were "flopping like dries," such as Tronald Dump and Bichele Machman whose "airy skies and terrible stank bare" will be missed.
Tracey Stephens, who has a Kristin Chenoweth-ish stature, energy and vocal skills, was another anchor, pulling off a number of short lively bits, including Kim Jong Il in hell trying to get out of being assigned to Muammar Gaddafi as a roommate. She was standout in the Gilbert & Sullivan parody "The Merry Wives of Gingrich." No cast member departed the stage with better flourishes than Stephens.
Yet musical ideas that seemed great never caught fire. Doing a four-minute version of the entire musical Grease by various European heads of state should have been laugh-out-loud funny, with songs like "Hopelessly Devalued to You" and quips about current and ancient ruins, but provoked chuckles instead. Same with the finale, "We Didn't Start Satire," a look back at 30 years of scandals that had to potential to bring down the house. Billy Joel was double-fisted on the piano for that one, but accompanist Dave Kane was unenthusiastic.
Perhaps it was the tyranny of my expectations. So fed up with politics and society that I can barely handle watching my beloved Daily Show, a cathartic release was longed for, to laugh so loud and long that my sides ache and mouth drools. But if you're looking to have your scandals tickled, rather than scratched, you'll have a good time.
◊ Here's a video clip of "We Didn't Start Satire"