Wednesday July 18, 2012

LENOX -- It's been a great year for some -- for most Banks, many Wall Streeters and for the late-night talk-show hosts.

And for Capitol Steps, it has been a spectacular year, and spectacularly are they responding to it, or so it seemed Friday evening at Cranwell Resort's Olmstead Manor.

The ensemble of Steppers changes, either entirely or partially, every summer, and all are extremely well prepared for, as the company's slogan promises, putting the mock in democracy. Each member brings to the arena of political satire his or her particular nuances to characters and situations, that shockingly, we take for granted in our wacky political system.

The year's cast is especially balanced and exceptionally adept at squeezing every laugh possible out of scripts and lyrics that appear much more finely tuned than in previous years.

Most of the topics are familiar from earlier sessions, for government does move sluggishly and obdurately -- immigration, the European financial crisis, free choice or prohibition of same, the Supreme Court, the TSA. And, of course, this is 2012, an election year, and the Steppers have those disputatious two parties, their candidates, and fond memories of all those vying earlier for the Republican nomination.


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Along with the welcome return of Howard Breitbart, the nimble electronic keyboard player who continues to enjoy the show as much as the audience, this year's quintet of merrymakers continues the quick-change fast pace of costume and role:

Mike Thornton, who has enjoyed a fine stage career essaying contemporary playwrights, has perfected one of the best George W. Bush impressions in memory, filled with that halting uncertainty and overflowing malapropisms that epitomized 43 to many. He's also a very funny Joe Biden, Scott Brown, the Senator from Massachusetts, and he delivered the smoothest annual address in years of the "Lirty Dies" Backward Talk. Thornton also delivered devastating portrayals of Donald Trump and Rick Perry.

Matt Pearson offers a thoughtful and effective Barack Obama, replete with those characteristic hesitant pauses for thought, the semaphore hand gestures, and he flashed the bright 32-tooth smile, as he mischievously borrowed from "Fiddler's" Tevye chanting, "If I Tax a Rich Man." Pearson also became a ruminative, business-like devil as he checked in new-arrival Muammar Khadafi.

Bari Biern, a member of the group for nearly two decades, displayed impeccable timing, fitting easily into the robes of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was hilarious as the mumbling Bob Dylan, and on the slow-on-the-draw, precisely cut phrasing of Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security.

Tracey Stephens, with a dozen years as a member of the troupe, proved a persistent Sonia Sotomayor to Biern's Ginsburg in the hugely funny song "Scalia" set to Bernstein and Sondheim's "Maria," and she made an amusing Kim Jong Il when offered an opportunity to be Khadafi's roommate in hell.

Stephens, who has a really good soprano voice, effected a most persuasive Susan Boyle, and was one of the "Three Little Wives of Newt."

Evan Casey, the youngest member of the cast, managed a highly made up and not altogether assembled Mitt Romney, in the number "I'm Unpop ular," in which he and Pearson debate who is least liked.

A large stuffed Irish setter labeled "Seamus" resided at stage right for most of the performance. It was ignored by the Steppers until Kim Jong Il took it away for a meal, but while it was there it served as a remin der of the Romney pet that traveled by automobile roof.

The Capitol Steps will continue through Sept. 2. This year's ensemble is especially worthy of attention.

THE CAPITOL STEPS. Through Sept. 2. Eves.: Mon., Wed.-Sat. 8. Mats.: Sun. 3. Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, Olmstead Manor, 55 Lee Road (Route 20), Lenox. Tickets information: (413) 881-1636.