To compose the music and lyrics for the Broadway smash Kinky Boots, which begins a six-day, eight-performance run Tuesday at Bass Hall, pop goddess Cyndi Lauper had to issue a gag order — to herself.
“I had to tell myself, ‘Shut the hell up. You’re not Lola’ [one of the central characters in the show],” said Lauper about overcoming the natural tendency to compose in a style suitable to her own voice. “Get over yourself and adjust [the song] to that voice, so that when people hear it, it sounds like the character. They’re not you.”
The musical theater community apparently thinks Lauper did a spectacular job of making that adjustment. The show, which opened on Broadway in 2013, won the coveted Tony Award for best musical that season, one of six victories that included a best score honor for first-time Broadway composer Lauper.
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The North American touring production making its stop at Bass Hall has been out on the road for more than a year, and productions have gone up from London to Asia (Japan and South Korea). A version slated to open in Australia next year is being cast.
Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 British film of the same title that tells the tale of a British shoe company responding to hard economic times with a shocking new product line of ladies footwear that is large and strong enough to be worn by men.
Despite sometimes having to suppress her own voice in crafting songs for this show, Lauper said she found the writing experience to be liberating.
“I had the opportunity to have the different characters, all these different people,” she said. “And that made it fun, because Harvey [Fierstein, the author of the show’s book] said, ‘There are no rules.’
“In my music career, there were so many damn rules. So it was like, ‘You’re Cyndi Lauper. You can’t do that. You’re too famous to sing like that,’ ” she said. “With this, I was able to sing in a way that was unconfined.”
I can’t tell you how many days I walked around singing like Rex Harrison. And then the next day, I was Julie Andrews
The project also allowed native-New Yorker Lauper to celebrate a lifelong love of musical theater.
“I was a weird kid. I grew up listening to my mother’s records [of classic musicals] and playing all the different parts. I can’t tell you how many days I walked around singing like Rex Harrison. And then the next day, I was Julie Andrews,” said the 62-year-old Lauper, who blasted onto the pop scene in 1983 with her album She’s So Unusual, which included the mega-hit single Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
“I always loved musicals like South Pacific, and I remembered There Is Nothing Like a Dame, and all of the wonderful voices that would come in,” she said. “I have one foot here and one foot, I don’t know, somewhere else.”
But while everyone involved seems to have put their best foot forward for this show, talking with its creators makes it clear that it is about something greater than just exotic, gender-bending foot gear.
“When we looked at the movie, which we all loved, that was the one thing that Harvey circled as the thing that could make it bigger on stage — something that was sort of passed over in the movie,” said Jerry Mitchell, who served as director and choreographer of the Broadway version and all of its offshoots, including this national touring production.
“These guys [central characters Charlie and Lola] were both failures in their fathers’ eyes,” Mitchell said. “They never measured up, or thought they measured up. One by not taking over the factory, and one by not becoming a boxer.”
Lauper also found the father-son issues underlying the show to be crucial to the show’s success.
“Harvey focused more on writing about their relationships with their fathers. That’s something universal that everybody can relate to,” she said. “And to me, Harvey is one of the great storytellers.
“I can count on one hand, really, the people that actually know how to write a musical,” she said. “I know that I know nothing [about writing musicals], but I do know that musicals are kind of hard to do. And Harvey knows how to do them right. I don’t know how or why, but he does.”
One of the great things Cyndi did was that she never said, ‘I know.’
Jerry Mitchell, ‘Kinky Boots’ director and choreographer
Lauper and Mitchell stressed the collaborative effort that went into the show, which was more than three years in the making, and they were effusive in their praise of the show’s creative team, which also included arranger and orchestrator Stephen Oremus and sound designer John Shivers, who both garnered Tony Awards for their contributions to this show.
“She really nailed the characters,” said Mitchell, who earned a Tony for his choreography for Kinky Boots. “One of the great things Cyndi did was that she never said, ‘I know.’ She was actually searching the whole time to find the best way to express these characters’ voices.”
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