Cyndi Lauper teams with Harvey Fierstein to adapt Kinky Boots, a 2005 film about a struggling Northampton, England, shoe factory that’s revitalized when it begins manufacturing high-heeled boots for drag queens. The resulting Kinky Boots: The Musical premieres in Chicago before hitting Broadway. We talk with the singer-songwriter about what attracted her to the show.
How did you get involved with Kinky Boots: The Musical?
I had just come off a tour in 2008, the True Colors Tour, and there was a little lull. Harvey Fierstein called me up, and I’m a huge fan. He asked me what I was doing and at the moment I wasn’t doing anything, and he said, “Would you like to write for this play I’m writing? It’s a movie, you should rent the movie.” …When I saw the movie, I understood exactly what [the musical] could be. It really spoke to me. And honestly, I love shoes, so to spend a lot of my time writing [songs] about shoes isn’t a bad thing.
Why do you think low-budget, naturalistic films set in England and Ireland, like Billy Elliot and Once, are resonating so strongly with audiences as musicals?
I saw Billy Elliot—I thought the movie was very moving and had a very strong sense of humanity to it. When I saw Kinky Boots, of course I loved it. I mean, the fashion. Come on, my poor little heart was beating so fast! But the humanity behind the story is what hooked me, and I think that’s what gets people. Kinky Boots is based on a real story, so somewhere in Northampton there was a factory going under, and there was an unlikely duo that turned things around and saved jobs by thinking outside the box.
How do you feel the themes of individuality and acceptance in Kinky Boots reflect the current state of gay rights?
I fight a lot for the community, and [Kinky Boots] shows two different kinds of men, totally different, but yet there’s a lot of similarity [that]…has nothing to do with being straight or gay. I don’t really look at this as a gay play, even though Harvey’s a gay man. I’m not a gay man. Well, maybe somewhere I am, but not really. [Laughs] It’s about a sense of community, and that we’re all different from each other. Being able to change your mind about how you view someone, that’s the key to this story. Because when you change your mind about what you might’ve thought about a person and see something different, you’re changing the world a little bit.
Kinky Boots runs October 2–November 4 at Bank of America Theatre (broadwayinchicago.com). $33–$100.