Cyndi Lauper had plenty of reasons to party Sunday night when she headlined the Pantages Theater. For starters, her Broadway musical, “Kinky Boots,” just racked up a whopping six Tony Awards, putting her just one movie gig away from going full EGOT (she's also got Grammys and an Emmy, but no Oscar -yet.)
Also, her 59th birthday is coming up on June 22, as acknowledged by several “happy birthdays” shouted during the early part of her set; not that she seemed AARP-eligible, sporting crimson dreadlock extension, a leather jacket and leopard print pants as she twirled around the stage, occasionally breaking into the "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" dance.
But the reason for the occasion was the 30th anniversary of the singer's 1983 breakthrough “She's So Unusual,” among the most enduring pop albums to emerge from the Reagan Era. Not that anyone should have expected Lauper, one of Gen-X's most beloved oddballs, to sleepwalk through her signature album, like a typical nostalgia act; her two-hour set was fittingly offbeat and spontaneous, sometimes with awkward results.
Much of the show felt like a taping of “VH1 Storytellers,” with the singer providing detailed backstories for her most iconic material. Lauper's tales sometimes meandered, with some twice as long as the song she was introducing. But her offbeat humor, here quirky Queens accent and lots of insider tidbits kept fans engaged as she recalled past streaking exploits, lyrics inspired by gay porno mags and the time, during the "We Are the World" sessions, that she creeped out Ron Wood. (Exactly how weird do you have to be freak out a guy who hangs out with Keith Richards?)
There was a chaotic undercurrent throughout, with a variety of technical glitches, set list changes and fan exchanges adding and detracting from the show. One of the night's most enduring images was when a fan bolted onstage, arms outstretched during Prince's “When You Were Mine.” Lauper intervened with a quick hug before her admirer was hauled offstage; and later the pop icon descended into the good seats where she sang part of "Shine," her uplifting internet release from 2001, surrounded by fans.
Lauper wasn't worried about staying on script as she added the obviously unrehearsed “Good Enough” during the encore, much to the chagrin of her confused backing band. “I didn't want to do this because we did it last year. Then I realized we never come here,” she explained, by way of apology. The arrangement was sorted out one awkward huddle later and the song – a fan favorite first featured in Steven Spielberg's “Goonies” - paid huge dividends.
But the whole thing got off to a shaky start, with Lauper audibly micromanaging her band's blocking and clearly distracted by technical issues. She sounded fine but briefly quit singing during "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" as she fiddled with her wireless mic transmitter, a passing disappointment for fans who paid up to 120 bucks to hear a treasured song from their childhood.
Later, she was focused and delivering with more gusto, dancing and revealing more of her vocal range through cuts like “Yeah Yeah” and “Sex is in the Heel” (the latter from “Kinky Boots.”) Sure, she'd wasted "Girls" early, but she saved her best song for last, singing an emotional rendition of “True Colors” accompanied only on keys. Fist raised, she encouraged her fans to embrace “acceptance, tolerance and working together for the greater good” before making her exit.
It wasn't a perfect show, by any means, especially if you paid top dollar for tickets; but it was, at least, testimony to the enduring power of Lauper's brand of pop. Maybe, now that she's in the midst of a major comeback, she'll start being mentioned again in the same breath as her '80s peers, Madonna, Michael and Prince.
Set list: Money Changes Everything, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, When You Were Mine (Prince), Time After Time, She Bop, All Through the Night, Witness, I'll Kiss You, He's So Unusual (Helen Kane), Yeah Yeah
Encore: Shine, Sex is in the Heel, Good Enough, True Colors