THE SHOREHAM'S Marquee Lounge, for 20 years the working home of Mark Russell, is nowadays the every- other-Friday home of a few spiritual kin -- specifically, eight shirt-and-tie, song-and-dance satirists known as the Capitol Steps.
The current Steps all hold real jobs on the Hill; the original troupe was born some three years ago as a lark for a Senate subcommittee's Christmas party (on the same night, though the Steps didn't know it at the time, that Russell did his last show at the Shoreham). Today, the group still does private parties -- and trade association meetings, and probably bar mitzvahs if you really press them -- but what they do nowadays is well beyond lark: It is some of the funniest, most ably wrought musical satire this side of Tom Lehrer. No kidding.
Ringleader Bill Strauss, 38, who portrays President Reagan on stage (though in real life is an aide to Republican congressman John Porter of Illinois), is responsible for most of the lyrics -- which are occasionally cutting (in a bipartisan manner, of course), but primarily meant to tweak.
The lyrics are what make this show. They're set to show tunes and popular songs, and apparently specifically designed (and redesigned, sometimes an hour before showtime) to be not more than a half step behind the Cable News Network. Last Friday's show at the Marquee Lounge, for instance, included a new number called "Walkie Talkie." To "These Boots Were Made for Walking," fit the following and you kind of get the idea: "Walker was made for talking / And that's just what he did / Walker and his walkie talkie / Walker and his kid."
There are others: "Mario," an ode to Cuomo, to the tune of "Maria" from "West Side Story"; "Rosty the Chairman" set to "Frosty the Snowman"; "My Wonderful Hammer," which begins: "Who will buy my wonderful hammer? / Help to build our nation's defense / It's on sale for ten thousand dollars / At Hechinger's, it's fifteen cents."
I'm tempted to just rattle off titles (oh, hell: "Cap the Knife," "The Twelve Days of Business," "The Wreck of the Walter Fritz Mondale," "Dutch the Magic Reagan"), but there is more to this show. Like quite a few homemade but crucial props. And especially the carefully campy choreography (part of the reason the Steps' recent album doesn't do the group justice) and arrangements, most of which is the work of Elaina Newport, one of three original cast members. (Newport plays the piano most of the time onstage; offstage, she plays the part of the ultimate tough audience. New songs, say Strauss and technical director Jim Aidala, have to pass "the Newport Rule" before they're performed publicly.)
And then, there are the lyrics.
Did I mention those?
Just one more, I promise. From "To Borrow," set to "Tomorrow," from "Annie": "I'm worried about tomorrow / Can I buy a house, a car, tomorrow? / There's no way / I'm feeling extra sorry / I cannot afford a new Ferrari . . ."
I know. The Capitol Steps are probably what the rest of the world might come up with if asked to envision a stereotypical "Washington" comedy show. But in this case, fine. Writing and choreography like this should find its way into more of our foreign policy.
And last week's audience, though admittedly dressed as if to testify at a House subcommittee studying Audi abuse, was both large and highly charged. It didn't hurt that Steps emcee-cum- promotional director David Jeffers, who also has a day job which has nothing to do with show business, executed a pretty sharp 15-minute standup routine before the show ("I saw James Watt jogging in my neighborhood; he was trying to catch up to his wife. Which was difficult, because he still carries the chainsaw . . ."). Jeffers says it was his first time.
If anyone knows how to get invited to Christmas parties on the Hill, please get in touch with me.