Cyndi's having fun as Kinky Boots musical returns to Northampton

Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper

It all began in a quiet shoe shop in Northampton but it soon become a worldwide phenomenon. And now it is returning home.

That is something which really pleases Cyndi Lauper who wrote the music for Kinky Boots the Musical, which is opening its first ever UK tour at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton later this month.

Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots

“I would like to be there, because I just think that part of it is special,” says Lauper. But she counsels against thinking of Kinky Boots as a specifically English show. “It’s a story about a really great friendship and two very, very opposite people and there’s a great redemption in the end. I’m a sucker for redemption.”

She was thinking of creating a musical about her upbringing in Queens when she got a call from her friend Harvey Fierstein. Fierstein is theatre royalty, the writer of the hit play Torch Song Trilogy about a gay drag performer and the cross-dressing star of the musical Hairspray.

“He said, ‘I’m doing a show called Kinky Boots. Would you like to write the music for me?’ I thought, wow. He told me I had to watch the film. I loved it. I thought, oh I get it. He wants me to write 12 good pop songs with a good hook. I figured, I could do that. Then I realised, oh, you have to move the story along.”

The show is loosely inspired by the story of an old family firm of Northampton shoe manufacturers that was about to go under only to discover a new niche in the market: ladies’ footwear worn by men who like to dress up.

The BBC told the story of the firm’s rebirth in the series Trouble at the Top. In 2005 that eventually became a charming independent British movie which starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola, a fictional cross-dressing diva demanding sturdy stilettos.

But the ultimate destiny for such a fabulous story was always the stage. Kinky Boots the Musical, which explored the unlikely friendship between Lola and straight-laced factory owner Charlie, opened in Chicago in 2012, moved to Broadway the following year, and made its way to the West End in 2015. It’s also gone all around the world to Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan.

But it wasn’t an easy journey for Cyndi, moving from 80’s pop queen into musical theatre, and she wrestled with her own thoughts before saying yes.

She said: “I was always being beckoned, ‘Come this way’,” she remembers. “And I was like, ‘I can’t, because if I do my career is over.’ I would lose my credibility in pop. It was really a big divide. After a while you get to a point where you’re, ‘Well, I think I’ve been ruined enough, it doesn’t matter now, I can do whatever the hell I want.’”

The songs written by Lauper won her a Tony Award for best original composition. In 2016 the show went on to win three Olivier Awards.

She had never written for theatre before, and became the first woman to win the Tony in the best score category on her own.

“What I was really taken with was that community accepted me,” she says five years later. “To have these people, that are a literally in my own backyard on Broadway, take you in was what kinda got me.”

Aptly enough, acceptance is the take-home message of Kinky Boots. “Accepting yourself, you’ll accept others,” says Lauper. “It’s a very important show at this time in the world.”

She added: “I was constantly asking Harvey if it was a hit and he was saying, ‘I don’t know yet. We have to win best musical.’ So when it won best musical I said, ‘Is it a hit now?’”

It is time for the people of Northampton to judge for themselves.

To book tickets call the box office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk