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Capitol Steps

(As originally seen on WGBY - Connecting Points)

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Capitol Steps headed to CityStage

April 22, 2012
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

Thank God for the Republicans primaries.

But the bipartisan comedy troupe of current and former Congressional staffers who call themselves The Capitol Steps, play no favorites. They're thanking God for the Democrats, too.

It's just that with the election year in full swing, the Republican presidential candidates are giving the political satirists a lot to work with and to be thankful for, according to founding member Elaina Newport.

"The Republicans are particularly funny now because of the primaries and their sheer numbers. We've always been committed to being bipartisan, so we've really had to dig deep to keep the Democrats up with the Republicans," said Newport.

The Capitol Steps, who use music to deliver their straight from the headlines comedy, will bring their special brand of politics to Springfield's CityStage for five days beginning Wednesday.

"Not only do we thank the current field of presidential candidates, but we also thank Massachusetts for the material it has given us over the years, and we love coming to Springfield for that reason," said Newport.

"It's almost like the candidates are thinking of the comedians right now... You get attached to the candidates and the songs you have created around them, then you watch the news only to learn they've dropped out... so it's a bit of a mixed bag, although we do love to change up our material," she added.

But even when someone does drop out of the primary race, it doesn't mean they're totally out of the show.

Just take Herman Cain, for instance.

"We even imagine in our show what Herman Cain is doing now since, obviously, he had to drop out of the race because of allegations of sexual harassment," said Newport about their special song for the candidate called "Love Potion Number 9-9-9."

Other current songs in this week's all-new show will include "Three Little Wives of Newt," set to Gilbert and Sullivan's "Three Little Maids from School."

"It's a fun little song, and we worked it up realizing we only have two women in the show. Newt has had three wives, so we have this debate before the show to decide who is the prettiest guy to play the third wife….and it's quite a competition," said Newport.

The Capitol Steps began as a group of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the very people and places that employed them. Now 30 years later, not all of the current members of the Steps are former Capitol Hill staffers, but taken together the performers have worked in a total of 18 Congressional offices and represent 62 years of collective House and Senate staff experience.

"We expected at one time that our would get complaints and tell us to stop. But, there have been relatively few complaints. In fact, one senator came up to us and was upset because we didn't have a song about him. He did not want to be ignored," said Newport, who worked for seven years on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant to Sen. Charles Percy, then for Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

Although Newport has worked for two Republicans, the Capitol Steps founding member's biography said she considers herself an extreme moderate, and notes that while she is married to a former Clinton appointee, she denies responsibility for having caused any of the scandals, which later became song material for the group.

Since they began, the Capitol Steps have recorded over 30 albums, including their latest, "Desperate Housemembers." They have been featured on NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS television, and can be heard four times a year on National Public Radio stations nationwide during their "Politics Takes a Holiday" radio specials.

But, the Capitol Steps are about more than just politics. "We deal with anything in the headlines whether it's politics, airport security or the environment, to those issues on people's minds today," said Newport.

Since the Capitol Steps are celebrating their 30th anniversary, of course, they decided to write a special song.

"We've tried to summarize 30 years in three minutes. We actually risk injury every night because we try at breakneck speed to cover every scandal of the last 30 years in those three minutes….there's plenty of carnage at the end with all these props lying on the floor," said Newport.

But, there's no risk to the audience, other than splitting their sides in laughter.

"I think people always like to see the high and mighty taken down a notch," said Newport.

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Paul Venier featured in Bud Light Stand-Up Comedy Series at CityStage

April 15, 2012
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

Comedian Paul Venier may be the star of Saturday night's Bud Light Stand Up Comedy Series at Springfield's CityStage, but don't expect him to just stand in front of a microphone cracking jokes all night.

Venier, who began his career as a rock star, said his show is more of "an entertainment kind of thing. In fact, he was recently honored at the Los Angeles Comedy Awards in March as the Most Hilarious Variety Act Comedian.

"It's the first award I've ever won, and it sucked because I couldn't be there after they changed the date. But they just sent me my plaque and that was a nice thing to do," said Venier.

Along the way to climbing the comedy ladder, Venier picked up the nickname "the comedy tornado."

"I have a very high energy act, it's different, I'm constantly going on stage. Hit and run comedy, that's me, and it's how I got the nickname," said Venier.

"Everyone has their own formula, and when you find one as a comedian that works for you, then that's your show. Some do dirty, so are great at political comedy, some do great slapstick. I'm in the moment with my comedy and very interactive with the audience….whatever is going on in that room forms the basis of my act," he added.

To learn how comedy came into Venier's act, you have to travel back to the days when the comedian was living the exciting life of a rock and roller.

At age 16, the Long Island musician turned comedian was touring the country in 1970 as a member of the progressive band Stark Naked – using extensive fire and lighting in their act – and they had an album on RCA records that reached the Top 10 of the album charts.

Comedy entered Venier's life and stage act when he went solo after performing with another group, Salty Dog.

"It was all quite by accident. I was performing at an inn in New Jersey around a big horseshoe bar where we were doing a lot of sing-a-longs and I was ad-libbing with the audience. From there I made my way to Rascal's Comedy Club where they had an out-of-tune piano and I found myself doing even more comedy. Then, the next thing I knew I was being booked by more comedy club agents and owners," said Venier.

Stepping off the stage, Venier has flexed his acting chops on the big screen appearing in the film "Cadillac Man" with Paul Robbins. His many television credits include "The Tonight Show," on which he performed sketch comedy with Don Rickles. He has performed at many of the nation's best comedy venues such as New York City's Caroline's and the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. In addition, he has opened shows for comedians Jay Leno and Jackie Mason, as well as singer Lou Reed.

looking for just the right material to come along to get into more acting, Venier has never stopped making music and recently completed a compact disc entitled "Better Late Than Never" which is available on his website at www.comedytornado.com.

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"Almost" Elton John Dazzles Springfield

April 12, 2012
(As originally seen on Did You Weekend? by Eric Sutter)

The audience can feel the sound of solid rock of the 70′s and 80′s in this "cover show" by Craig A. Meyer and the Rocket Band. This visually stunning performance is a tribute to Sir Elton John by a fantastic impersonator and crack band with singers that rattle brains and pull at heart strings. The brash, "Bitch is Back," seared with intensity… guitar against piano tearing loose like the outpouring of a sudden thunderstorm. Familiar songs "Philadelphia Freedom," "Daniel," and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" follow with audience participation of hand waving glowsticks and cell phones. Meyer dresses in many glittered costumes and wears big glasses, platform shoes and assorted brilliant headwear. His English accent adds dimension to this spectacular show as he coaches the audience in the correct way to sing the chorus of "Bennie and the Jets."

Meyer's flamboyancy burns with ardent passion as he prances in self-indulgence to "I'm Still Standing" and pounds the piano in interplay with Danny Howe's dangerous electric guitar solo. The river of musical delight feels like the rush of being suspended in mid-air. The swirling emotions quiet to the spotlight focus on Meyer on dark center stage at the piano as he sings "Tiny Dancer" with lap steel accompiament. The beautiful ballad on the simple stage with lighted disco ball brings a crisp chill of remembrance that dances off the skin and raises goose bumps. The great and powerful "Rocket Man" takes off and engulfs like a radiant torch of light. "Honky Cat" moves the audience to the song's percussive piano rhythms.

Act II begins with the pensive but pendulous "Funeral for A Friend" with Meyer in glam rock pink. "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" warms every heart. A duet with singer Kelly Fletcher, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" is fun and neatly juxtaposed to "Candle In The Wind." A blue bell-bottomed Meyer in a long-tailed coat brings the house down with a rock medley of "Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds" and "Pinball Wizard." The colorful roller coaster of sound crescendoes with "Crocodile Rock," "Saturday Night's Alright" and "Sad Songs," which closes the night.

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PREVIEW - Burn the Floor Heats Up Springfield

April 7, 2012
(As originally seen on In The Spotlight)

Years before "Dancing with the Stars" turned ballroom dancing into must-see TV, one sizzling show was setting stages ablaze around the globe. "Burn the Floor" the electrifying Latin and Ballroom dance spectacular that has thrilled audiences in more than 30 countries, brings the fire and passion of their live performance to Springfield.

The new Broadway production broke box office records and critics and fans around the world have raved about this performance. From Harlem's hot nights at The Savoy, where dances such as the Lindy, Foxtrot and Charleston were born, to the Latin Quarter where the Cha-Cha, Rumba and Salsa steamed up the stage, Burn the Floor takes audiences on a journey through the passionate drama of dance. The elegance of the Viennese Waltz, the exuberance of the Jive, the intensity of the Paso Doble - audiences will also experience the Tango, Samba, Mambo, Quickstep, and Swing.

Twenty award-winning international dancers include numerous world champions. The dancers, who collectively hold more than 100 dance titles, move to the vision of artistic director and choreographer Jason Gilkison, former World Champion Latin and Ballroom dancer, and guest choreographer and judge on "So You Think You Can Dance." A highlight for the Springfield performance is the inclusion of 2009 "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Karen Hauer on the cast list.

The event is co-sponsored by Health New England and Baystate Health. Media sponsors are ABC40/Fox 6 and El Pueblo Latino.

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'Almost Elton John' pays tribute to British recording star

April 7, 2012
(As originally seen on MassLive by Keith O'Connor)

CityStage will take a step back into the 1970s for four nights beginning on Wednesday, when multifaceted performer, Craig A. Meyer, brings his Almost Elton John and The Rocket Band show to Springfield.

"I'll be banging the ivories. Audiences will experience a night with Elton sprinkled with all the feathers and beads and platform shoes and glasses….all the great stuff from his glam days," said Meyer, who travels with an additional four musicians and three back-up singers.

Bearing a remarkable resemblance to the legendary star along with an uncanny ability to sound like the popular showman, Meyer will take audiences on a hit-filled journey through some of the singer-songwriter's biggest hits including "Benny and the Jets," "Philadelphia Freedom," "Crocodile Rock," and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

"And for the real Eltonphiles, we also do a few deeper cuts like 'Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding' and 'Candle in the Wind,'" said Meyer.

"I also have a padded suit, full wig and a different wardrobe for what I call the contemporary Elton," he added.

A longtime entertainer before embarking on the road as Elton, it was never Meyer's intent to someday join the ranks of the many tribute artists in the entertainment marketplace today.

"A very dear friend of mine named Melody Knighton, who actually impersonates Lucille Ball and Dolly Parton, first suggested that I perform as Elton John. At the time, Melody was attending my vocal coaching studio to work on her Dolly Parton. But, I wasn't hip to the idea and said 'no' for two years," said Meyer.

"Then, one day I was doing a benefit in Atlanta and performed a couple of Elton's songs, not trying to be him. During intermission, people came up to me and said the moment they closed their eyes, they could have sworn they were listening to him. So, I gave it more thought, and told myself that Elton had a great catalog of music, and even if I was singing as him for the rest of my life, that wasn't something so bad," he added.

So, Meyer gave his friend a call and the two of them went shopping.

"I had a residual from a film I did. It was mailbox money, not part of my budget, so I used it to get the act together. I figured no harm, no foul, if it didn't work out. I picked up the phone and called Melody and we went shopping for my costume, then she did my makeup and helped me to get a photo shoot and demo ready. I set up a website and knew many agents and planners from being in the business over the years, and now here I am three years later and the act has exploded and I'm traveling all over the world and it's really, really great. And, if it wasn't for Melody, I wouldn't be enjoying the life I'm leading today," said Meyer.

Meyer has been in the entertainment industry for some 35 years, leaving his mark in almost every medium from theater to film and from television to music.

On Broadway, he created the role of Clinton Badger in MGM's classic "Meet Me in St. Louis" and toured nationally in "Cats" as Skimbleshanks, as the Red Caboose in "Starlight Express," and as Mike Nulty in "Irving Berlin's White Christmas."

In music, Meyer has toured internationally and recorded with music legends Barry Manilow and Frankie Valli, and has headlined for Princess Cruises around the world.

In the world of television and film, Meyer has appeared on "Will & Grace," "Good Morning Miami," "Family Law," "General Hospital," and "Fernwood 2nite," as well as working with Alan Menken on Disney's "Aladdin" and with Tim Rice and Elton John on "The Lion King." His film credits include "Leatherheads" with George Clooney and Renee Zellweger, and his most recent project "Joyful Noise" with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah.

Meyer said he had the opportunity to see Elton John in concert about three weeks ago in Atlanta.

"He is amazing and still has this incredible stamina on stage performing for some three hours. And, he is still making amazing new music like his last album that he did along with Leon Russell. I would say his music is in the same league with Gershwin and Porter, and dare I say further that it will have the longevity of Mozart and Beethoven. People 100 years from now will still be covering his tunes," said Meyer.

"Justin Bieber, not so much," he added.

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Sir Elton John and Queen's Freddie Mercury come to Springfield, Mass., Almost

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Springfield is prepping for the arrival of two highly anticipated performers, iconic to the LGBTQ community — Sir Elton John and Queen's Freddie Mercury, well, almost. In one-of-a-kind events, these two revered personalities will take center stage at CityStage and Symphony Hall this April.

Gary Mullen and The Works take the audience through a show-stopping time warp of Queen and Freddie Mercury, performing their mega-hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, We are the Champions, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Radio Ga Ga, amongst many others. This performance is scheduled to take place on April 4 at Symphony Hall. Another "Diva" of his own, Elton John illusionist Craig A. Meyer will morph into the flamboyant pianist and vocalist, famous for his brilliant performances of Benny and the Jets, Philadelphia Freedom, Crocodile Rock, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Candle in the Wind, amongst many others. Award-winning Meyer will be sure to not disappoint audiences from April 11-14 at CityStage. Recently, The Rainbow Times caught up with Mullen and Meyer to discuss their upcoming performances and incredible artistic transformations.

Craig Meyer is Almost Elton John

TRT: What inspired you to perform as Elton John?

CM: I grew up on Elton's music and cut my piano chops on Elton, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow and Stevie Wonder. Five years ago, a friend in the Tribute Industry, Melody Knighton, encouraged me to try putting together a show. I was not sure it was a direction I wanted to take my career and politely declined. Then, three years ago, I got a hefty residual check and decided to give it a shot. My reasoning was, it's an amazing catalog of music, I have a very unique skill set in that I play piano, have a gift for mimicking voices and with a little smoke and mirrors, I can create a plausible illusion that I am Elton John.

Q: Your vocals and resemblance of Elton John are amazing. How long did it take you to perfect your performance?

A: As I said, I grew up with Elton's music and was able to dissect the elements that make up his voice (one part Anthony Newly, one part Cher) and after hours of finding the key moments to employ that sound, I had the basis for the character. As for the guise, I spent two years on the road in CATS back in the late 80's. Doing my feline make up every night, I got to know my face pretty well. My friend Melody is also a makeup artist and helped me create the look. I get a kick out of transforming myself into Elton prior to a show. It's a 45 minute process that includes darkening my hair and creating his signature gap in his teeth and the cleft in his chin. The costumes, I design myself, and work with a talented costumer to bring the designs to life. I have found fabric in New York, accessories in LA and had my custom Platform heels created by shoemaker to Broadway, T O Dey.

Q: You are obviously very talented. Why do you prefer impersonation instead of performing as yourself?

A: Thank you for your kind words. Almost Elton John is just another expression of my long career as a performer. In my years as a gypsy, I've been on Broadway, toured with Barry Manlow and Frankie Valli, sung with Mickey Mouse, as well as being a kitty in CATS and a Caboose in Starlight Express. So pretending to be Elton John isn't too far-fetched a job description for me. I am a native of Los Angeles and spent the better portion of my career there until I moved to Atlanta six years ago. In addition to my work on stage, I continue my TV and film work in Atlanta. Most recently, I was seen on the big screen in Joyful Noise with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton and on the small screen—a TV movie for Cartoon Network, Level Up. One of my most favorite TV roles was on Will & Grace when I costarred with Matt Damon.

Q: How did you make it big in the impersonation performance world? Was there a single event that changed the course of your career?

A: When I decided to make a go of Almost Elton John, I took all my years of experience and working with some of the best entertainment professionals and companies in the world and focused it on my show. From day one, I made sure that the stage production, costumes, marketing and overall presentation was a caliber of which I could be proud. I strive with each performance to bring that level of commitment and artistry onstage with me. [On the] opening night of my first Equity show, my dressing roommate gave me a card that read: "Always remember… Someone is seeing a show for the first time, and someone is seeing a show for the last time." When you have that perspective, each moment on stage is the opportunity to impact a life and create a memory.

Q: Tell me about The Rocket Band. When did the band form and was it always dedicated to Elton John performances?

A: I love The Rocket Band! They are an amazing group of Atlanta based musicians who have come together to support this project. We've had a few iterations of the group trying to find the right mix of folks and making sure everyone's in the best position for their skill set. Each of them is a consummate professional in both their musicianship and personality. I marvel during rehearsals when I see them bring something new to the table with a certain lick on the guitar or a flourish on the bass. They are truly invested in what we are creating and make me feel, if only for the moments I am onstage, that I really am a rock star! They are the ones that make it happen. Without them, I'm a guy with a piano.

Q: If you had to describe Almost Elton John and The Rocket Band in three words, what would those words be?

A: Electric. Passionate. Dynamic.

Q: What is your most memorable show to date? What made it so memorable?

A: This past summer we had an outdoor concert in Atlanta. It was a perfect night for being together and celebrating music. As the evening progressed, the area directly in front of the stage began to resemble a mosh pit. The most amazing part was the diversity of the dancers! [There were] little toddlers dancing with grandpas, teenagers bopping with the beat, couples' cutting a rug, and soon the whole place was on its feet. At another point in the concert, the audience was singing along so enthusiastically, I just sat back and let them sing to me! Being able to move a group of people that way is magical. It's the why of Almost Elton John & The Rocket Band.

Q: Soon you'll be coming to Springfield, Massachusetts to perform at CityStage. What can attendees expect from your performance?

A: I hope that the CityStage audiences will come ready to rock! The evening is predicated on them being willing to go on a journey with us. It begins with my transforming into Elton and then all of us being caught up in the magic. I consider myself an illusionist. With the lights, costumes, music, band, make-up and the audience, I create a plausible diversion for me to sing the music of Elton John. So, I guess they can expect to be mesmerized by the artistry and magic that is Almost Elton John & The Rocket Band.

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News Directory Capitol Steps - (WGBY Connecting Points VIDEO)

Capitol Steps headed to CityStage

Paul Venier featured in Bud Light Stand-Up Comedy Series at CityStage

REVIEW - Almost Elton John

PREVIEW - Burn the Floor Heats Up Springfield

'Almost Elton John' pays tribute to British recording star

Sir Elton John and Queen's Freddie Mercury come to Springfield, Mass., Almost

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