Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein receive stars on Hollywood walk of fame
By Malina Saval
LOS ANGELES — It's hard to imagine a more simpatico creative pairing than Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein.
Lauper, the award-winning (Grammy, Emmy and Tony) pop icon whose rainbow-colored hair and anthemic "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" single made her a hero among fiery female teens in the 1980s, has long established herself as a staunch humanitarian and leading advocate for LGBT rights. Fierstein, the gravel-voiced actor-cum-playwright who rose to fame with such landmark Tony award-winning triumphs as "Torch Song Trilogy" and "La Cage aux Folles," is a preeminent human-rights activist who was openly gay at a time when almost nobody in the entertainment industry was.
Decades later, the two artists and longtime friends finally came together to write and score the 2013 Tony Award-winning musical "Kinky Boots," an achievement for which they received adjacent stars today — hers for recording; his for live theater — on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a plum spot located in front of the Pantages Theater where "Kinky Boots" is gearing up for its April 13-24 Los Angeles rerun.
"I'd wanted to work with Harvey for a really long time and when this opportunity came up I was very excited to take it," says Lauper of her inaugural foray into Broadway musicals. "Harvey kind of protected me and walked me through the experience. Basically, he was my mother."
Lauper is the first woman to win the Tony for original score, apt kudos for a play (based on the 2005 Miramax film) that celebrates differences, diversity and friendship. Inspired by true events, the play centers on Charlie Price, who inherits a foundering shoe factory from his father. To save the business, Charlie forges an unlikely camaraderie with Lola, a drag queen. Together, they launch a line of sparkly, high-fashion high-heeled boots that both rescue the factory and serve as an emblematic reminder that differences can inspire not only tolerance between people but also love, acceptance and mutual admiration.
"I feel strongly about the show because of what it says and how it is inclusive and how everyone in the show has an arc," Lauper says. "Everyone can grow and that is why I like the show so much. Everybody's involved. I had decided that I wanted to dedicate my time to doing something good and this show makes a lot of people happy. We're so blessed to be in the age when music can affect you in that way -- to give you joy, to give you realization."
"My message has always been that none of us is the same and you have to respect the difference," says Fierstein of the play's theme. "I'm not for homogeneity."
In crafting the songs for "Kinky Boots" Lauper and Fierstein -- who lives in what he jokingly refers to as "a small fictional town" in Connecticut -- spent a lot of time over a several-years-long stretch hammering out ideas over the phone.
"She's not great with emails or texting," quips Fierstein of Lauper. "Sometimes we'd talk for an hour with one idea. But the second (song) becomes easier and the third one and the fourth one even easier -- once you're in the groove. Sometimes you go in the wrong direction. Cyndi had never done this before so she had no idea what the actual process would be."
Lauper and Fierstein were also racing against a calendar packed with a plethora of other professional commitments. In the period during which they created "Kinky Boots," Lauper recorded and released a blues album ("Memphis Blues"); did a tour of Asian countries; worked on an advertising campaign for Mac Cosmetics with Lady Gaga; and wrote and published her 2012 autobiography, "Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir."
Meanwhile, Fierstein was writing the book for "Newsies" and his play "Casa Valentina," performing as Tevye in the Broadway revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" and as Albin in the Broadway revival of "La Cage aux Folles."
"That's the problem with working with creative people -- they're not creative in one direction," Fierstein says. "It's great if you can do something very focused, but with Cyndi it was hard so I did have to be a little bit of a taskmaster. You have to achieve a balance and it's not easy. The greatest theater artists in the world can come together and write a bomb."
Quite the opposite, of course, happened with "Kinky Boots," which, as of mid-March, has raked in $190.4 million at the Broadway box office. The musical has also had hugely successful runs in London and Toronto and will be opening in October in Melbourne.
"If you were going to pull three people's names out of a hat to work on a play about believing in yourself, you could not have chosen three better people," says Tony Award-winning "Kinky Boots" choreographer and director Jerry Mitchell, who had worked previously with both Lauper and Fierstein on numerous projects, including "Hairspray" on Broadway. "It was just one of those perfect moments when this synergy came together and we were all on the same page. We had a blast working together and the collaboration was effortless most of the time, and it just made the work more successful."
Besides being a show that "makes you want to jump up and boogie with the cast," Mitchell also attributes the "magical" success of "Kinky Boots" to its inherent message -- seemingly straightforward and yet deceptively profound.
"This show has a lot of hope in it," Mitchell says. "It's not only a father-son story, but about two men who don't fall in love with each other but become supportive of one another and learn to accept one another and all the people in their world. Musicals are about big ideas and sometimes simple ideas are big ideas -- accept people for who they are."
With one blockbuster Broadway show under their belts, Lauper hopes that she and Fierstein will soon find time in their busy schedules to work together again.
"Harvey still jokes about when I used to call him and I would forget what I was doing because I was working on a lot of stuff at once," she says. "I called him from under a hairdryer one time and I was singing him something. He never forgets. I think he misses my messages."