This pop star loved show tunes as a girl; she recalls singing along to her mother’s recordings of Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison.
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Indelibly identified with her 1983 chart topper “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Cyndi Lauper might be the world’s most inspired choice to pen the songs for a Broadway-bound musical about a drag queen with a shoe fetish. Based on the 2005 movie of the same name, the Harvey Fierstein–backed Kinky Boots has its world premiere in Chicago just as Lauper, 59, reignites her career: She released a memoir in September (Simon & Schuster, $26) and in 2013 will star in a reality show on WE TV. Chicago spoke with her about taking her chances on Broadway.
The last 1980s icon to venture into musical theatre was Boy George. In 2003, his Taboo got clobbered by Broadway critics and only ran for—
The music in that show was wonderful. Boy George’s story is Boy George’s story. I’m not focusing on what other people thought about that. I don’t have a crystal ball.
Why did you take on the writing of a musical?
I wasn’t doing anything at the time [in 2008]. Harvey just called me out of the blue—I remember I was home with the flu. He said he was writing a play and would I write the music and lyrics for it? I’ve admired him forever. I’ve always thought he was an inspirational spokesperson for the community [GLBT] that’s been such a huge part of my life for so long.
What have you learned from collaborating with him?
What he always says about writing for musicals is that when characters can no longer speak, they start to sing.
Chicago boasts a vibrant GLBT community, but Broadway in Chicago audiences tend to skew suburban, where things can be a bit more conservative. Do you think—
This isn’t necessarily a gay play. It’s a play about inclusion. Of everybody. There’s a big, fat beer-drinking straight guy whose point of view we definitely get. Kinky Boots is about people learning how not to judge. It has a huge heart.
The song “Sex Is in the Heel” sounds destined for the clubs. Is the music for Kinky Boots more dance-pop or show tunes?
Both. When I was a kid, there was overlap: You’d hear Broadway songs on the radio. It’s exciting to me to try and take music that’s on Broadway and put it in the club.
“Sex is in the heel”—what does that mean, exactly?
Oh, come on. It’s funny. And it’s true. Shoes aren’t just shoes. They’re an ism. They’re a lifestyle. Seduction’s in the thigh. The heel is the transmission.
SEE THE SHOW: Kinky Boots opens at the Bank of America Theatre on Oct. 17. 18 W. Monroe St., broadwayinchicago.com.
Photograph: Gavin Bond