REVIEW: Capitol Steps’ “Orange Is the New Barack” [Berkshire On Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
What would summer in the Berkshires be like without a new edition of Capitol Steps, currently in residence at the Cranwell Spa’s Harvest Barn, their tenth year in Lenox? This company of singing parodists, whose motto is “We put the ‘Mock’ in Democracy,” have been performing throughout the country live, on radio, television and recorded on albums (37) since 1981. It is a nationwide operation, self-described as a “well-oiled machine,” able to dispense touring companies to private and public events “with almost frightening efficiency.”
Constantly amending the show to keep up with current headlines, lyricists Mark Eaton, Elaina Newport and even cast members concoct ideas for adapting familiar songs to fit the latest scandals. The playbills include a list of titles that may be included, with the caveat that others could replace them without notice.
When Capitol Steps was formed, many of the performers worked on Capitol Hill, while each of today’s companies consists of five professional singer/actors and a pianist. The cast in this edition – titled Orange Is the New Barack – impersonate dozens of political figures across the spectrum, satirizing members of both parties with impartial abandon.
A seemingly infinite number of wigs and costumes (there must be a dresser behind the black curtain that masks their changing area — at least I hope so!) facilitate their instantaneous identity-shifts. The set, such as it is, consists of a white curtain on which is depicted a colorful representation of the Capitol, a black platform and four microphones. That’s it. Cranwell’s air-conditioned Harvest Barn can accommodate a large audience (averaging about 135 per show) with general seating for the 90-minute intermission-less show.
The performers are exemplary. Janet Davidson Gordon plays, among myriad others, Melania Trump, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Ann Coulter. A member of the company for 19 years and frequent collaborator on their songs, Gordon has done a wonderful job developing the mannerisms, voice and speaking style of each of her characters. Among Delores King Williams’ roles are Kellyanne Conway, Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Maddow, Angela Merkel and Betsy DeVos, singing, appropriately, “Don’t Know Much About History.” Williams is an award-winning singer whose in-your-face characterizations are hilarious.
Morgan Duncan’s Barack Obama impersonation is so spot-on that a sad and loving audience expressed its emotion with tumultuous applause. Jamie Zemarel as Putin, with his Russian hat and bare chest is priceless, singing “Putin on a Blitz;” he also shines as Donald Trump (a la Alec Baldwin), Bill Clinton (hoarse-voiced), George W. Bush (not so bad after all!), a smiling Joe Biden, a smarmy Mike Pence, an overweight Al Gore and a very southern Jeff Sessions appropriating (more or less) Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” to explain his Congressional testimony: “Lie, lie, lie.”