Cyndi Lauper Looks Back on the Colors of Her Career | Playbill

Special Features Cyndi Lauper Looks Back on the Colors of Her Career

The pop icon has a new documentary and a farewell tour. Plus, she gives an update on Working Girl the Musical.

Cyndi Lauper Timothy Greenfield Sanders

There is a certain drama to pop stardom that seems to demand the awe-inspired dedication of a theatre kid. For icon Cyndi Lauper, those tendencies appeared at a tender age.

“When I was 5, I played The King and I so many times that my grandmother took my little record player, because she just couldn’t take it anymore,” Lauper laughs, her bluesy soprano as clear as when she first leapt into the scene more than 40 years ago. “I breathed with Barbra and Funny Girl. Oh, and My Fair Lady! I was Stanley Holloway.”

In the 41 years since Lauper’s debut solo studio album, She's So Unusual, her taste for theatricality (and later performance art) has only been heightened. As detailed in Lauper’s new documentary Let The Canary Sing, out now on Paramount+, that originating core artistry, which transformed a catholic girl from Queens into a kaleidoscopic icon, has yet to fade.

Cyndi Lauper Ruven Afanador

"Everything is color," Lauper explains, her voice taking on an almost reverent tone. "I have always relied on color, because I am a visual artist. I write songs, but I always wanted to have visuals with them, so you could really see me." As one of the defining artists of the 1980s, her bold embrace of color certainly aligned with the period's hunger for vibrance. But that love of hues is far from just a fashion statement. 

Grounded in color theory and its psychological impact, she has spent decades crafting visuals that are designed to inspire very specific reactions. "I think that yellow is a powerful color right now. It is the people's power chakra, for those of us who may not feel our own power," explains Lauper. "That color can trigger empowerment, so I am putting it everywhere right now." 

In fact, Lauper seems to see the entire world in terms of color. As she reflects on her 71 years of life, every experience is describe in saturated terms, from the mellow tones of her pre-solo stardom band Blue Angel to the airy pastels of motherhood.

Cyndi Lauper Laurie Paladino/Paramount+

"I choose color, but I use symbols," Lauper shares, explaining the ways in which she has carefully constructed her own public persona. "The chain on my ankle is a symbol of the fact that women do not have equal rights. I dyed my hair red because it was a very passionate color, and I was feeling everything at that time." 

As for theatre? "Black. It's every color, all at once."

Lauper made her Broadway performance debut in 2006, starring as the lovelorn Jenny in the inventive revival of The Threepenny Opera opposite Alan Cumming, Jim Dale, and Ana Gasteyer. It was unlike anything she had done before, or anything she has done since.

"The odd thing about that production was that we were never able to allow the audience to acknowledge anyone. That was odd for me, because I thought some of those guys should have been able to take a fucking bow," Lauper laughs, before letting out a nostalgic sigh. It doesn't take long for her affection for co-star Alan Cumming to take over the conversation. "I learned a lot from doing that show. I was the green one, and I would just get lost in Alan singing, and miss my cues." 

The more seasoned members of the company soon built shoulder taps and shove-of-loves into their tracks to break Lauper out of her trance. But when it came to her intimate tango with Cumming, all bets were off.

Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper in The Threepenny Opera. Joan Marcus

"I had to count the whole time I'd be doing the tango with him, just under my breath, or I'd lose the beat. And he could hear me! He had this really funny impersonation of my counting as he was spinning me around the stage...I learned so much, and it was an honor to work beside those people, all of them. They were wonderful performers. But Alan was like a magnet for me."

When Lauper shifted to the other side of the table on her next Broadway outing, another theatre legend was there to help her find her feet. “I didn't get to go to theatre school, but I went to the Harvey Fierstein School,” Lauper shares, her clear love for her Kinky Boots collaborator shining through. “He was just amazing. What a great teacher. Everything I do, I keep him in mind.”

While Lauper recently battled two significant bouts with COVID-19, she has built herself back vocally and physically as she prepares for an international farewell tour which kicks off October 18. While this may be fans final chance to see Lauper in all her pop star glory, she's hardly gone over the rainbow; she's simply built a new life for herself at the end of it, where all the colors converge.

Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper when they were treated to a joint star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame David Buchan

“You can't listen to those voices who tell you, ‘You can't do this’ and ‘You can't do that.’ You have to go on... I haven’t done a tour like this since the 1980s. I've been so busy with Kinky Boots and Working Girl, and my family. But after COVID, it just seemed like this was my chance to do it one more time, and to do it right. I’m going out with a big celebration for all the people who have been following the music, or who enjoyed the music that I put out for these years. Fans, friends, it all blurs sometimes,” she shrugs. “I haven't done a fun tour since 1984, and right now, I just want to have fun with everyone.”

As her documentary explores, Lauper is vividly aware of the impact her work has had on rising female pop stars. During the interview for this piece, rising supernova Chappell Roan and social medias constant comparisons of her visuals to early Lauper, were presented to Lauper for the first time.

"I can't believe I've never seen her before!" Lauper exclaims after looking Roan up for the first time. "Such dusky, yearning keyboard pop. Wow, born in 1998, she's even younger than my son! And that hair! That kind of reminds me of what I did on the blues record, Memphis Blues. This is just incredible. Everything you wind up doing is an artist collective. I'm going to have to reach out to her."

Oh, but one last thing before she returns to her pot of gold. What’s the update on Working Girl? Based on the 1988 rom-com, the show’s been circling in the developmental shadows for over a decade. “I am now working with Theresa Rebeck, and I find her very, very delightful, and it's a good collaboration. I get to work with Stephen Oremus again, and we’re working with Chris Ashley, who is so good at construction, and we are getting somewhere.” 

With only the gentlest of prods, Lauper can’t help but opine. “I think 2025, we will go out of town, and in 2026, will come to Broadway,” Lauper claps, her laugh taking on an even brighter tone. “Well, there you go! I hope we're looking for a theatre, because I just said it!”

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