Cyndi Lauper brings some true colors to the world of Broadway with her new musical, Kinky Boots.
March 08, 2013
Cyndi Lauper isn’t sounding like herself these days. Instead, she’s sounding like a no-nonsense black drag queen. And a young vanilla Brit. And a homophobic factory worker.
These are characters from Broadway’s upcoming Kinky Boots, for which Lauper has made her first foray into musicals. Enlisted by Kinky Boots’ librettist, Harvey Fierstein, the Grammy- and Emmy-winning Lauper immersed herself in the show’s characters, writing so specifically for them that the songs were largely devoid of Lauper’s own distinctive, poppy sound.
“We had to almost say, ‘You’re Cyndi Lauper, give us a fucking Cyndi Lauper song!” Fierstein laughs. “Because she has this real love for musicals, she just abandoned what most other [theater] composers are too precious about—they want it to sound like them more than the characters. ‘What sound would this character have?’ is the question she asked, and we got an eclectic score. Each character really does have their own voice.”
Lauper’s own thick Queens accent is evident as she speaks about Kinky Boots and Fierstein, whom she credits with inspiring her prolific LGBT activism—she co-founded the True Colors Fund, which runs programs dedicated to eradicating LGBT youth homelessness—and landing her the gig.
“I love Harvey dearly,” she says. “He calls me Christina—as in he’s Mommie Dearest. To actually work with him now is a big honor. He’s really funny, a good guy and storyteller, and he understands the stage. He’s been doing it all his life. He invited me into this, and I took it on the basis [that] I always wanted to work with him.”
"It’s our country, it’s not wrestling. If you try and make our president fail, it doesn’t matter who he is, you make our country fail.” —Lauper, on Donald Trump
Based upon the 2005 film, which is in turn based on the real-life story of a Northampton, England shoemaker who carved out a niche by making women’s boots in men’s sizes with steel-reinforced heels for support, Kinky Boots stars Stark Sands as Charlie, who inherits his family’s near-bankrupt shoe factory and finds an unlikely potential collaborator-cum-savior in Lola, a brassy drag queen (the fabulous out Billy Porter) in need of fierce footwear.
Directed and choreographed by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray, Legally Blonde), Kinky Boots’ official opening night is set for April 4. The show’s well-received pre-Broadway test run in Chicago last year was captured in Lauper’s WE network reality series, Still So Unusual, which aired during January and February.
Besides domestic life with actor husband David Thornton and their 15-year-old son, Declyn, Unusual chronicled Lauper’s guest appearance on The Voice (a “Money Changes Everything” duet with a contestant), the release of her self-titled memoir, her stint as Grand Marshal and performer at New York’s Gay Pride Parade, and a May 2012 visit to Washington, D.C. where she accepted an award for her efforts on behalf of LGBT youth, including the establishment of the True Colors Residence in Harlem, and lobbied on Capitol Hill to drum up support for the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act.
“Well, a lot has come of it,” she says of the D.C. effort, which included meeting with Nancy Pelosi. “A lot has been going on with people at Capitol Hill. It made some noise and people are actually able to do something. But I’m not gonna lie to you. [The process] is an onion and you peel away each layer. It certainly was a good poke in the eye to do that and listen to what the hell they’re doing and who the hell’s doing it and who the hell isn’t.”
One person Lauper wouldn’t even bother to court support from lately is Donald Trump. “I’m not going to kiss ass with somebody like that,” she clucks. Lauper appeared on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice in 2010, making it to sixth place and donating her winnings to True Colors Fund and Stonewall Community Foundation. Trump’s stated opposition to same-sex marriage and civil-union rights, and his virulently anti-Obama behavior and tweets during the election leave Lauper deeply “disappointed.”
“I felt that what he said about the gay community was disappointing because a lot of gay people work for him,” she admits. “It’s just sad. I thought he could have done better for his country than just go to the lowest common denominator and stir up the crap. It’s our country, it’s not wrestling. If you try and make our president fail, it doesn’t matter who he is, you make our country fail. And if you really are a patriot, if you really give a shit about our country, you don’t do stuff like that. First of all, you’re an entertainer, and you make ugly buildings, and you’re famous for it. And you have a reality show with very high ratings. Don’t step into the forum like that. Become educated with facts. Don’t just be a shit-stirrer. Our country is in trouble and he keeps wanting to make [Obama] fail. Let’s call a spade a spade. The guy’s a black man and that’s your issue? What kind of idiot are you? Come on.”
While Kinky Boots is actively being tweaked until its April opening, one of its catchiest songs, “Sex Is in the Heel,” has already carved out a spot on Billboard’s dance chart and on dance floors (iTunes stocks a six-remix EP). And, yes, that’s Lauper’s own voice on the track. “I’m trying to get songs from the play to the people,” she enthuses. “Some of the stuff sung by Billy and Stark might be really cool to get out to the clubs, too.”
Kinky Boots is now playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theater (302 W 45th St). Visit kinkybootsthemusical.com for more info.