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22/09/2015 17:37 BST | Updated 22/09/2015 17:59 BST

Cyndi Lauper Interview: 'Kinky Boots' Creator On Elton John, Living With One Foot In Another World And The Shelf Life Of Certain Shoes

If Elton John or any friend of his is ever reading this, there’s something Cyndi Lauper’s never told him.

No, it’s not that she once nearly set fire to the hair of the woman in front of her at a concert of his when she lit her lighter – although that did happen – nor that she once gatecrashed his party and ended up checking in guests at the door – although that happened as well.

No, it’s simply this. “I’m so grateful that he wrote that song ‘Tiny Dancer’, she whispers, “because it touched my heart and sprinkled a little fairy dust on me, and made it possible for me to stand up again at times when I felt crushed.”

It’s pretty difficult to imagine the inimitable Ms Lauper in any state of crushedness, looking at her across a coffee table in London. She’s not overegging it when she tells me “I like to think of myself as a walking sculpture” – all the jewellery, porcelain doll makeup and high, high heels that you’d hope to see are firmly in place, beneath a pair of neat, pink plaits.

However, despite these enduring artefacts from the Cyndi Lauper of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ fame, it seems the lady herself is pretty adaptable, for example in her new guise of songbook writer, with responsibility for the score and lyrics of ‘Kinky Boots’, the musical adapted from the film of 2005, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton.

cyndi lauper

"I always had one foot in my imagination and one foot in the world," says Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi made some concessions to her new role, it transpires. “I bought a jacket. I thought it would make me look like a writer.” She chortles. “A smoking jacket with an ascot.”

It must have worked, with Cyndi already the proud owner of a Tony for the Broadway version of the show, making her the first woman to be the sole winner of Best Original Score, with its book written by four-time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein ('La Cage Aux Folles'). She also bagged a Grammy for the album of the score, and it's now playing to delighted audiences here in London. Did she know it would succeed?

“I don’t know anything,” she bellows, “but whatever I don’t know, I go and research and study.

“Some people have another thing, they’re a genius and they do their thing” (this is when the subject of Elton John crops up) but I learn, and what I do know is that other world that I put my foot in, and walk in. In high heels. Or platforms, which is easier.”

The ‘other world’ Cyndi’s referring to is one she’s half-inhabited since she was a tiny girl growing up in Queens, New York, and expected to something pretty similar to the rest of her family.

“For me, because I was eight, I learned how to cook and clean, and they said, ‘You’re going to be doing this for the rest of your life.’ I thought, ‘You maybe, but not me.’

“I wasn’t going to live in that world. When they said that, I was disappointed. Part of me is a bit dopey too. Some things would bother me, but I always had one foot in my imagination and one foot in the world, and when the world disappointed me, I would just live in my imagination.

“It’s about two extremes all the time… leather and lace, if you will.”

She rattles off the musicals that inspired her when she was a little girl with a hairbrush for a microphone, treating me to a spontaneous rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein's ‘Walk on through the storm…’ which is a glory to behold, and doffs her cap to one lady in particular.

“I was so close to Barbra Streisand, she has no idea how close we were,” she clutches her hands to her chest. “I sang with her every day, when I was nine, I would make my voice sound like her. So the musical, it was pure joy to do it because I felt like I was a kid again.”

'Kinky Boots', with its fantastical story about a northern boy who grows up to a be a man in charge of a shoe factory, whose only Plan B involves designing boots for drag queens inspired by one in particular, Lola, not the perfect business model to present to your average bank manager, perhaps, but one designed to pave the way for enough dance, defiance and double-entendre to satisfy any financial adviser with an imagination. For Cyndi, sequins aside, she’s emphatic that art imitates life, and it’s a really simple story about the trials and triumphs of family life.

“It’s about your relationship with your father. We don’t even know what preference Lola – leading lady par excellence – has, Lola is just Lola.

“And the great thing is that these people are so opposite, and yet they have that commonality, these unspoken or very spoken expectations of what you are supposed to be.”

kinky boots

Kinky Boots has enough disco, dazzle and drag to keep all audiences happy, but is essentially, says Cyndi, about family and expectations

Cyndi muses on her own life which, despite her red carpet-ready appearance, she describes as for years being built around her son’s hockey team – “not just a sport, a fricking lifestyle” is how she puts it.

“Suddenly, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was surrounded by men, which was interesting to learn. I saw these boys copying their dads when they were little, then distancing themselves when they got older, and I saw this whole thing. So then the song ‘Not My Father’s Son’ came out of all that. Everything comes from somewhere.

“Once I realised that this show, minus the trappings of cross-dressing and drag queens, is all about relationships with your parents, with your friends, and your family that you work with, and acceptance of who you are. And that’s the big moment, when you accept yourself, and you accept others, too.”

And, let’s not forget, it’s about the boots…

“When you get dressed, you empower yourself, you try to remember to stand up straight, just doing that can make you feel better,” Cyndi goes into purposeful mode.

“You just walk differently. If you feel better with high heels, go on. Just make sure you don’t get crippled, because I’ve crippled myself…” she looks down at her heels, a pair of vertiginous installations… “When you take your shoes off at night, you understand what you are making for other people. There are some shoes to lay down in, to walk in, to run in, but there are some shoes that are so painful by the end of the night.

“When I did the Tonys, the shoes looked incredible, but they hurt so much, I was getting mean to people. You have to learn how to work it, and understand some shoes have a shelf life.”

She shrugs conspiratorially, both knowing we’re talking about shoes but something else besides.

“That was the attraction too, the fashion vibe of it… I felt I could relate to what it was to be an outsider, because I’ve lived most of my life outside.”

You don’t make that look remotely unappealing.”

She smiles broadly. “It doesn’t have to be an unappealing place.”

'Kinky Boots' is playing at London's Adelphi Theatre - currently booking until February 2016. Ticket info and performance timings direct from website here - no booking fee.


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