She's still so unusual — and so is her remarkably tireless commitment to LGBT equality.
Almost 30 years after Cyndi Lauper released her seminal debut album, "She's So Unusual," the colorful '80s pop icon took home the Tony Award for Best Original Score for Kinky Boots, making her the first woman to win in that category without a partner. Featuring a book by Tony winner Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots, which opened April 4, 2013, at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, also won the Tony for Best Musical and the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.
Based on the 2005 movie of the same name, Kinky Boots stars Tony winner Billy Porter as Lola, a feisty drag queen who, against all odds, saves a small town shoe factory on the verge of bankruptcy. Its inspirational message of tolerance and self-empowerment has always been close to the composer's heart.
In 2008 Lauper co-founded the True Colors Fund, the leading national organization devoted to raising awareness about and bringing an end to LGBT youth homelessness. The True Colors Fund's "Give a Damn" campaign also works to encourage everyone, particularly straight people, to care about equality for all. Currently performing as a special guest on Cher's Dressed to Kill tour, Lauper spoke with Playbill.com about what fuels her devotion to the LGBT community, time after time.
Since co-founding the True Colors Fund, you've remained one of the busiest ladies in show business — composing Kinky Boots, recording albums, touring, writing a memoir, starring in a reality show and much more. Many celebrities would spend their free time relaxing. What continues to inspire your fight for equality and the end of LGBT homelessness?
Cyndi Lauper: Listen, I am family and friend of the community, and where I come from you stand by the people you care about. I cannot sit quietly by while their civil rights are being stripped away, and I won't stop speaking out until we have full equality for everyone. I especially won't give up until we make sure that no kid is homeless simply because they are gay or transgender. As a mom, I cannot understand how any parent can throw away their kid, let alone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Kinky Boots cast members joined you last year for a True Colors Cabaret benefit concert, and the True Colors Fund recently partnered with the musical on the "Raise You Up" Community Youth Program, which empowers homeless and at-risk LGBT youth to learn more about career opportunities within the theatre industry. What makes True Colors Fund and Kinky Boots such a fabulous match?
CL: Because our messages — about love, acceptance of who you are, and respecting everyone for who they are — are the same. They are universal themes that both the show and the True Colors Fund are working hard to share with the world.
Meeting personally with homeless and at-risk LGBT youth, do you often encounter the creativity and passion that would be a good fit for the theatre world?
CL: These kids are extraordinary and talented. They have the same dreams and hopes as we all do. They've just had to deal with a much heavier burden than a lot of kids. That's why it's so important that we all stand by them and help give them the support and opportunities that they deserve in order to succeed. These kids are not victims — they are our future leaders, scientists, artists, teachers, social workers. You name it, they can become it. We just need to step up and do our part.
Have you heard any inspiring stories about how Kinky Boots has changed straight peoples' opinions on LGBT issues and rights?
CL: We have certainly gotten many letters, emails and comments, and every single one of them is wonderful to read and appreciated. But I have to say that actually being in the theatre, watching everyone in the audience — regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, you name it — up and on their feet by the end of the show, celebrating the music and the message, is probably one of the most inspiring things I have been lucky enough to experience. The theatre, arts, and music have a unique way of really opening up people's hearts and minds, and I am proud to have played a role in the impact Kinky Boots has with every performance.
While working to end LGBT homelessness, you've found another home for yourself on Broadway. How does it feel to be embraced by the Broadway community?
CL: Being embraced by the Broadway community is such an honor — it's something I do not take lightly, and it's been one of the best parts of the Kinky Boots experience.
You also made your Broadway debut as a performer in the 2006 revival of The Threepenny Opera.
CL: I'm from Queens, and all these years I've been traveling the world, it turned out this amazing community was right in my own backyard. Everyone in the theatre is so talented and works so hard, and they've been so supportive and encouraging.
Kinky Boots is still going strong after more than a year on Broadway. Are you itching to write another Broadway score?
CL: The first experience was so good that I'd definitely like to do it again! I am working on some different Broadway projects... although nothing I can talk about yet.