Bringing Down the House

Anything and everything political is fair game for sketch comedy group the Capitol Steps, which will be participating in a fundraising event for the Corner House Foundation.

By: Lillie Binder

The political comedy troupe the Capitol Steps will perform at Richardson Auditorium in Princeton May 21, appearing as part of a benefit for Corner House.

   In the spring of 2001, Corner House’s annual fund-raiser broke all its previous attendance and profit records, thanks to a sold-out performance by Washington, D.C.’s acclaimed musical-comedy troupe, the Capitol Steps. Together, they grossed nearly $80,000.
   This year, Corner House hopes to break records again when it welcomes back the Capitol Steps to Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium May 21.
   "Because of Capitol Steps’ popularity, and because this is an election year, we thought it would be a great time for them to return," says Marie Burnett, co-chairwoman of Corner House’s benefit committee.
   For 32 years, the nonprofit Corner House has maintained a "dual commitment to prevention and treatment" for adolescents and teens and their families. It handles issues ranging from family and school conflicts to physical and substance abuse, as well as depression.
   Capitol Steps was established inadvertently in 1981 in Washington, D.C., when three mischievous politicians, Jim Aidala, Elaina Newport and Bill Strauss, were planning their senator-boss’ Christmas party and surprised the crowd with scathing satirical skits and musical numbers. Since then, two of these three professionals, Mr. Strauss and Ms. Newport, joined by Mark Eaton (a writer and performer in the shows, and also a former Capitol Hill staffer), have continued to entertain crowds with their fresh, bipartisan humor.
   The Capitol Steps sells out rooms all over the country, performing about 600 shows per year, and has already released 20 well-reviewed albums, including When Bush Comes to Shove (2002), Between Iraq and a Hard Place (2003) and its latest effort, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bagdhad (2004). The group’s work has drawn praise from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and talk-show host Larry King.
   The members of the Capitol Steps have clearly continued to pursue their interests in politics through their material, but they also branch out into whatever else they tear from the news, or more likely Access Hollywood, such as the tireless topic of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl flashdancing or occasional impressions of Donald Trump. (Everyone’s got an impression of "The Donald" these days, but they should really leave it to the professionals.)
   Members of Capitol Steps, from different though generally political backgrounds, incorporate their other interests to the shows. Performer Nancy Dolliver, one of the five members of the full cast of 35 who will sing and act in this year’s benefit, previously studied voice and worked in television production.
   "(At one point), I had two jobs," Ms. Dolliver says. "At my TV news job, I would sometimes meet politicians that we were currently portraying in Capitol Steps shows. It was interesting how the two jobs were different ways of looking at public figures."
   Ms. Dolliver has committed to Capitol Steps full-time. "I enjoy traveling with the Steps," she says. "There are very few jobs where your most important tasks are to be funny, make people laugh, and have a great time."
   Ms. Burnett suggests the Steps might help "instill some humor at a difficult time for the country," and assures that, "this promises to be an enjoyable evening for a wonderful cause."
The Capitol Steps will perform at the Corner House Foundation Benefit at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, May 21, 9 p.m. Performance-only tickets cost $50. For information, call (609) 258-5000. On the Web: