News Column

Cyndi Lauper, beloved, time after time

July 4, 2013


July 04--Cyndi Lauper thinks in rhythms.

"Get the rhythm and you've got the song."

So says the pop star who has traveled the road from colorful '80s icon to blues interpreter to, now, a Tony Award-winning Broadway composer.

The voice of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" has tackled just about every type of music: pop, rock, New Wave, dance, soul.

"But," she said, "I haven't done jazz. Not real jazz."

It all started, according to her, when she was 10 years old.

"My sister got an acoustic guitar and started playing. That sparked me. My sister should have gone into music. I always regretted that she didn't, but people told her she stunk. She believed them. I never believed them when they told me that."

Lauper is famous for her wild hair and outfits, and you expect her to be a babble-mouth who will take off in all directions during an interview. She doesn't. She's difficult. She's hesitant. She thinks before she answers. She's serious. She even goes off on a tangent about Henry David Thoreau.

I told her I liked the bright-red hair she sported at the Tony Awards. She isn't impressed.

"I might stick with it for a while," she said. "But it's easy to change. Just as easy as changing a wig. No problem. No one likes the same woman every night."

On Friday, Lauper, 59, arrives in Portsmouth, where she will perform at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion. Her concert will include a re-creation of the entire album "She's So Unusual," which rocketed her to fame in 1983 and spawned four top 5 hits -- "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "Time After Time," "She Bop" and "All Through the Night."

"It's the 30th anniversary," she said, "and time to do it."

In one way, however, the timing was awkward.

Lauper has become a Broadway sensation after winning a Tony in May for composing the score to the hit musical "Kinky Boots."

"I made a mistake in timing, maybe, because I scheduled this tour right in the middle of the Tony Award season and I had to leave to continue the tour the day after winning. Being on the road is like being an athlete."

But, she said about performing, "I never give up. Never. I let (audiences) come to me. Hold back and let them come to me, but, if they don't, I'll do whatever necessary. If they don't come to me, I'm going to be right on them.... Stand on one foot. Stand on my head. Whatever."

Lauper was on tour in Europe when Harvey Fierstein called and asked if she would write the music and lyrics to his stage adaptation of the little independent movie "Kinky Boots."

Turning it into a musical seemed a natural evolution. The little-seen British movie concerned a failing shoe factory that, in order to save the family business, turns to producing shoes for drag queens -- heels for heavy men who couldn't otherwise find shoes sturdy enough. The factory becomes a big success by producing kinky boots -- and so did the musical adaptation.

"I wrote one song at a time," Lauper said. "It was not as if I thought of the overall score. It was a song for each character and it had to serve a particular place in the show. An upbeat number to open Act II. A ballad for the right moment. Most of all, I wanted songs that welcome people into the theater. People work hard. When they go to the theater they want to be welcomed."

"Kinky Boots" was more than welcomed. It became a surprise Broadway hit and earned six Tony Awards, including a composing award for Lauper -- making her the first solo woman to win that category.

Lauper won't be performing any of her "Kinky Boots" songs in concerts.

"They have to go see 'Kinky Boots' for those songs. My concert is different."

It will draw from Lauper's pop music catalog, which earned her the best new artist Grammy in 1985. She followed with the album "True Colors" in 1986. It included the hits "True Colors" and "Change of Heart."

Since 1989, she has released nine studio albums. Her most recent was 2010's "Memphis Blues," which ranked as the No. 1 blues album of the year, according to Billboard magazine.

Not all of her life was breezy. Her 2012 autobiography detailed her battle with child abuse and depression and became a New York Times best-seller.

"Touring," she said, "is just about the biggest challenge a woman can have, but you have to go to the people."

Asked who most inspired her along the way, she named an art teacher, not a musician. His name was Bob Burrell, and, Lauper said, "he set me to thinking. Before him it wasn't clear that I was going to do anything in life. I wasn't doing much. He knew the painters of the '40s, the naturalists and the impressionists. After class, we'd talk about people like JFK and Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Thoreau."


"Yes, but I'm out with Thoreau because I feel he has deceived me."

How so?

"By the way he described women. He suggested that women weren't around to be educated. They weren't educated, and it was acceptable to society. Women should have shown civil disobedience centuries before they did.

"I burned my training bra a long time ago."

Mal Vincent, 757-446-2347,

If you go

Who Cyndi Lauper

When 8 p.m. Friday

Where Telos Wireless Pavilion, 16 Crawford Circle, Portsmouth

Cost $25 to $53

More info


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