NEW YORK - “I look like what’s-her-butt, from Sunset Boulevard,’” Cyndi Lauper announces in her pipsqueak voice. She checks herself out in the mirror in her foyer, surrounded by framed platinum records. Although she talks with the panache of a 1940s movie moll crossed with a character from Goodfellas - all dames and broads and outer-borough curse words - she doesn’t resemble even a profane Norma Desmond. In head-to-toe black, save for a leopard-print sweater and a tight cap over her hot pink hair, Lauper, the singer of enduring hits like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “True Colors,” mostly looks like what she is, a pioneering rocker.
It’s a Wednesday, and she is heading from her apartment in the Apthorp building on the Upper West Side, walking a few blocks to the Beacon Theater to see her friends Tegan and Sara, the twin indie-pop duo, perform. This is a rare night off for Lauper, who is having the busiest and most creatively diverse year of her career. Backstage she tells the duo, Tegan and Sara Quin, about her latest projects: a memoir, published in September; a reality series (her second, after a stint on Celebrity Apprentice), focused on her life on tour and with her family, called Still So Unusual, for the WE channel; and, most pressingly, the Broadway version of Kinky Boots (adapted from the 2005 movie), for which Lauper composed the music, a first for her.
Although she helped produce her own records and wrote a slew of radio hits, selling more than 40 million albums, she is not perceived as a composer. Kinky Boots, with songs in styles that range from pop and funk to new wave and tango, with highly personal lyrics and several standout ballads, might change all that, potentially paving the way for another phase in her career. In previews now and due to open April 4, it’s the culmination of four years of work, a collaborative back and forth among Lauper; the director, Jerry Mitchell; and the book writer, Harvey Fierstein. But getting top billing without having to sing onstage has made her nervous, she admits.
“It’s my first time aroundthe pony wagon,” she says. “I just wanted them to have something as great as it could be, because they believed in me.”
Fierstein, who worked on Kinky Boots in between writing another hit Broadway musical, Newsies, and a play, said he saw in the adaptation an opportunity to work with someone with a big musical range, “somebody who could write club music,” he says, along with show tunes. (Even before a tryout run in Chicago, a remix of a number from the show, “Sex Is in the Heel,” made the Top 10 on the Billboard club charts, the first Broadway tune to do so in 25 years.)
The story, about a struggling English shoe factory that is saved when the owner decides to partner with a drag queen and design fabulous heels for her compatriots, also seemed as if it was in the Lauper wheelhouse, Fiersteinsays. (“The shoes alone!” she says.) Both found resonance in the show’s themes, of uncovering identity, acceptance and creativity as an outlet for change.
“I knew she would get the message of the outsider,” Fierstein says, explaining their friendship. “We come from similar backgrounds: She’s from Queens, I’m from Brooklyn. She had her first album cover outside the wax museum of Coney Island,” for She’s So Unusual, her 1983 solo debut, which produced four Top 5 Billboard hits, including “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “She Bop” and “Time After Time.”
Weekend, Pages 33 on 03/21/2013
Print Headline: Lauper busier than ever, composing for Broadway