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Cyndi Lauper on the joys of writing the score for Kinky Boots

True colours: Cyndi (below)
says her family provided
the inspiration for one of the
songs in Kinky Boots

CYNDI LAUPER, 65, became an 1980s pop sensation with hits such as Girls Just Want To Have Fun. She wrote the score for Kinky Boots the musical, which won the 2016 Olivier award for Best Musical and is on tour now.

What’s the difference between writing songs for a musical and an album?

With a musical you can write in different styles and different voices, since you’re writing for different characters. It’s not as if all the songs on my albums are autobiographical. I often tell other people’s stories in my songs, but it’s the voice and the point of view when writing music for characters that makes it different. When you write a song for a musical, the songs have to move the story forward, which adds a layer of complications that you don’t have when you write songs for an album. One of the most exciting things Harvey [Fierstein, the show’s musical book writer] taught me when I asked him what the rules were, was ‘There are no rules!’ I loved hearing that.

What’s your favourite song in the show?

Not My Father’s Son, for two reasons. The first is I wrote it as a love song to my husband and son. Just watching my son grow up and how much he looked up to his dad. Unlike Charlie and Lola’s fathers in the show, my husband always accepted my son for who he was but I saw that father/son dynamic up close and wanted to write it for them. The second is because it is central to what the show is about — how these two young men, coming from very different worlds, very different upbringings, had the same struggles.

What were your favourite musicals?

West Side Story and South Pacific because of the melodies, the lyrics and the stories the songs tell. If I am ever confused about what a musical can be, I watch West Side Story again. The mix of Shakespeare and ballet with the theme of integration and jazz just leaves me in awe. It is a tale told with humour and sadness. It’s just a great, great piece.

Were you a fan of musicals as a kid?

I didn’t see many Broadway shows as a kid but I was a huge fan of musicals. My mom and my grandmother listened to all the classics. Listening to the classic musicals is how I learned to sing. I pretended to be all of the characters in West Side Story and South Pacific.

Lots of people don’t like musicals — is this a good place to start?

Kinky Boots is a great place to start. It’s just a huge, happy pill. I watch people in the audience who look like they’ve been dragged to the theatre by their wives or kids, who seem like they don’t want to be there — and within five minutes they’re smiling and laughing.

What’s been your favourite part of working on it?

Getting to work with my friend Harvey Fierstein and becoming part of the Broadway community. Until I wrote Kinky Boots, I’ve always sort of been treated as an outsider. The Broadway community made me feel I was at home and they embraced me in the most beautiful way. And getting to watch audiences fall in love with Kinky Boots and open their hearts and minds to the idea of ‘You change the world when you change your mind’ has been really special.

What impact has this had on your career?

I have always been a songwriter, but I didn’t get recognised for it very much. Kinky Boots made folks in the music industry take notice.

Would you want to do another musical in future?

I’m writing the music for a Broadway adaptation of the movie Working Girl. I’m excited to be able to tell a story about a strong woman on Broadway.

■ Kinky Boots is on tour around the UK, kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk