US singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper found commercial and critical success with her debut solo single in 1983, Girls Just Want To Have Fun. It helped earn her a Best New Artiste win at the 1985 Grammys and has since become a pop classic.
More than three decades on, the 65-year-old is still making an impact with her music.
The music and lyrics that she composed for Broadway musical Kinky Boots, for example, won the Best Musical Theatre Album award at the Grammys in 2014. It was nominated again in the same category at last year’s Grammys, although it lost out to another Broadway production, The Color Purple.
Kinky Boots also won her a Tony Award for Best Original Score in 2013.
There is a world of difference between writing pop songs and composing music for theatre, Lauper says in a recent telephone interview from New York.
“Pop songs are self-contained – they have a beginning and an end. With musical theatre, you have to figure out who’s who, what the story is about, how to have the music move the story forward and build up each character,” explains Lauper, who won an Emmy Award in 1995 for Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series for her role in sitcom Mad About You.
She was initially apprehensive about taking on Kinky Boots.
“I always thought, ‘Gosh, it’s very tricky, having to entertain the audience with songs that are both catchy and can move the story forward’.”
She got lucky, she says, because she had a lot of guidance from Tony Award-winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, who also wrote the Kinky Boots book.
The story about a shoemaker who turns his ailing business around by making shoes for drag performers is based on the 2005 film of the same name.
Lauper had to identify with not just the main characters, such as shoe factory owner Charlie and drag queen Lola, but also with everyone who appears in the story, which was inspired by true events.
“It’s a story about these two men who couldn’t be more opposite, but in the end, they develop a wonderful friendship.
“They have the same issues, unspoken expectations of themselves from their parents. But my job was to get inside everybody’s head.”
Known for other pop hits like Time After Time (1983) and True Colors (1986), Lauper has sold 50 million albums and 20 million singles.
Her music is varied. In 2010, for instance, she released an album, Memphis Blues, that became Billboard’s biggest-selling blues album of the year.
And while Girls Just Want To Have Fun was not an original song, but a cover of a 1979 tune by American singer Robert Hazard, it still is her best-known song to date.
“It’s an anthem written by a man with a whole different point of view,” she says. “But I wanted to turn it into one of those songs that give people encouragement.
“I wanted it to empower women and girls, and help them understand they are entitled to a joyful experience in life.”
The message of empowerment is also what drove her to take on her current project, the musical version of 1988 Hollywood comedy-drama Working Girl, which centres on a woman trying to make it in male-dominated Wall Street.
“I see that as a very important project. Not much has changed for women from the 1980s, we’re still dealing with the same story over and over. It’s the perfect time to do this musical.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network