I’m sorry to hear that The Capitol Steps are another victim of COVID-19. No, not the stairs leading to the building that was attacked by Trumpist goons last week. These Capitol Steps are a theatrical troupe that’s been around for forty years, performing song parodies on topical issues.
The act started in 1981 when Elaina Newport, Jim Aidala, and Bill Strauss were congressional staffers. They started writing satirical lyrics to well-known songs based on current events, and before long were singing them at a Christmas party for other people who worked on The Hill. From those meager beginnings, they added members and built an empire that included 40 albums, hundreds of gigs around the country, and lots of exposure via NPR and PBS. Despite its founders all being Republicans, they were equal-opportunity parodists who took shots at politicians of both parties, as well as other notable names in the news.
When I first got to DC in the mid-80s, Elaina started sending me five-inch reels, each containing their latest song parody. I liked them right away and played quite a few on my WCXR morning show for years. Martha and I went to see them a couple of times at Chelsea’s Cabaret in Georgetown, where they were semi-regulars.
A few years later, The Capitol Steps were set to record a PBS special produced by WETA, the giant public TV station Martha worked for. I had Elaina and Bill on my radio show to promote it, and they excitedly shared that then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had just agreed to make a guest appearance. I went to the taping, and there was Koop, in his formal Surgeon General garb, opening the show by stiffly intoning that, in his medical opinion, “The Capitol Steps will cause your side to split.” Not high comedy, but about as funny as any member of the George HW Bush administration could be (on purpose). Fortunately, the professionals took over at that point — and killed.
After moving to St. Louis, we lost track of The Capitol Steps, although I did hear when Bill Strauss died of pancreatic cancer in 2007. Elaina and her colleagues — by then professional singers and actors, not congressional staffers — kept the franchise alive with several different touring companies playing all over the country. When they came through town, we always went to see them at the Sheldon Concert Hall.
Sadly, we won’t have that opportunity anymore. A couple of days ago, they sent out a press release stating, “We are sad to announce that The Capitol Steps are planning to shut down. Like many in the entertainment business, we simply weren’t built to survive going a year or more without live performances.”
That’s a shame, but everyone who has worked for The Capitol Steps can take pride in knowing that for any entertainment organization to remain in business for forty years is quite an accomplishment. Perhaps once we’ve gotten enough Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus and the economy has rebounded a bit, the brand can be revived in some fashion.
Until then, I offer thanks for decades of entertainment. Not to mention all those Lirty Dies…