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The way Cyndi Lauper sees it, it's better that she didn't know how difficult it is to write music for Broadway when she accepted Harvey Fierstein's invitation to write the score for the musical "Kinky Boots."

The pop singer, who came to fame in 1983 with the album "She's So Unusual" and the hit songs "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "Time after Time" and "She-Bop," (and later, "True Colors") had to make the transition from writing for her own colorful pop music persona to being a behind-the-scenes composer, crafting songs for many different characters.

"I said, 'What are the rules?' " Lauper said. "Harvey kept saying, 'There are no rules!' "

"Kinky Boots," with book by Fierstein; music and lyrics by Lauper; and directed and choreographed by Paw Paw, Michigan, native Jerry Mitchell, plays Detroit's Fisher Theatre Jan. 15-24. It premiered on Broadway in March 2013.

The singer/songwriter is speaking by phone, with that familiar Queens kewpie/punk voice. She says she signed on to the musical because she thought working with Fierstein and Mitchell would be fun.

"I knew Jerry Mitchell from the 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' video; he's awesome, he's fun," said Lauper, 61. "So I was like, 'OK, this is going to be good.' I guess me not knowing anything served me well."

It served her quite well indeed — Lauper won a Tony Award for Best Score for "Kinky Boots," the first woman to receive that particular nod on her own, without a collaborator. The musical won another five Tonys, including Best Musical.

The musical is based upon a 2005 movie, itself a slightly fictionalized account of a real-life story about a struggling, traditional British shoe factory that turned its fortunes around when it started making fetish footwear for men, an "under-served niche market."

In the movie and musical, it's drag queen Lola who convinces the heir of the shoe factory, Charlie, to start making flashy, wild boots in larger sizes that men could wear. Lauper's exuberant songs carry much of the narrative — "The Land of Lola," explains to Charlie what exactly Lola and her "angels" do, and "The Sex is in the Heel" describes what kind of footwear they need.

It's not as if Lauper was a complete novice when it came to musical theatre. She grew up in Queens, New York listening to a wide variety of music. She wore out her mother's Broadway and movie soundtrack albums, especially Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loew, plus classical music and jazz, including Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. And because her family was Italian, there was opera — mostly Puccini. ("Nothing ever goes well for the woman, in Puccini," Lauper said with a snort.)

As a performer, Lauper made her Broadway debut in 2006, playing Jenny in "The Threepenny Opera."

But the process of learning how to write for Broadway was not without bumps.

For instance, Fierstein would routinely stop one of her songs to insert bits of dramatic action, then start it up again. Lauper was outraged at first. Once she understood that the songs needed to be salted with narrative action to advance the plot, she got over it.

Then there was the matter of putting modulations into the songs — changing the key — to change the mood and insert drama. Lauper hates doing that, as a practice. She got over it.

"You just embrace it," Lauper said. "It worked for so many reasons, one in particular is that those kind of modulations in the show really helped to bring the emotionality up."

As a wife and mother — she has a 16-year-old son, Declan — Lauper can relate to the father-son dynamic in the musical.

"This story is about two men who couldn't be more opposite, and yet they find a commonality in the most basic thing that every man feels, that he could never please his dad enough," Lauper said. "There's that very striking moment in life when a little boy stops trying to work on his dad, and tries to find his own footprints that he'll leave. That is sad, and yet something to celebrate. It's hard for a parent. That was the song that Harvey wanted and so I wrote 'Not My Father's Son.' "

There is also the tender "Hold Me in Your Heart," when Lola is reunited with his dying father, and the celebratory "Just Say Yeah" when the factory produces its first "kinky boots."

Lauper loved the fact that she was able to write for a variety of characters, instead of her own very distinctive persona. Along with the hit songs and the fame came a more constricted musical persona than she preferred.

"I could never write certain things that I like to sing, because when you're on a record label and are a famous commodity, they only want that," Lauper said. "They'd say 'Hey, that doesn't sound like you, come on!' "

For the character of Lauren — a shoe factory worker who has a crush on the boss, Charlie — Lauper tapped into the girl group sound of her youth for the song "The History of Wrong Guys." "I wanted a Shangri-Las sound, so I thought, I'll give her my Blue Angels singing style," she said, referring to the group she formed in the '70s.

She listened to the actors during auditions and rehearsals, to figure out how to write "their" songs.

"With the guy who played Charlie, I said, 'When you were a little kid, what was your jam, what did you like?' He liked Weezer. So I wrote 'Step One,' for him, not that it sounded exactly like Weezer, but it was tailored to his voice. Things gets adjusted, you tailor it to the performance and then it feels as if it originated from their brain. It's very important that the music is authentic.

"I think it's one of those shows where there's a jam for everybody," Lauper continued. "Harry's jam (Harry is a friend of Charlie's), may not be yours; the character in the show in the English bar maybe is, or maybe Lauren's is, maybe Lola's is. And in the end, they all kind of come together."

For Lauper, the effect "Kinky Boots" has on its audiences is what most impresses her. "You can go there in a bad mood and leave in a good mood," she said. "We always tried to make sure that the audience is feeling it."

swhitall@detroitnews.com

Kinky Boots

Book by Harvey Fierstein,

music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, choreography by Jerry Mitchell

Jan. 15-24, Fisher Theatre,

3011 West Grand Blvd., Detroit

8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

7:30 p.m. Sunday

Matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday

and Sunday

Matinee 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15

Tickets $45-$153

(313) 872-1000

broadwayindetroit.com

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