In a silver- and
black-striped suit and her trademark smudged eyeliner,
Cyndi Lauper in 2008 is the spitting image of herself in
1985, and she's got the 6,000-strong crowd at
Los Angeles's Greek Theater in the palm of her
hand. "Raise your hand if you're gay,"
she cajoles in her still-thick Queens accent. The
crowd obeys. "Raise your hand if you're
straight." Scattered hands. "Now, if
you're a gay person sitting next to a straight
person, hug 'em for coming here tonight." Mass
performance is one of the last stops on Lauper's True
Colors tour, a 24-city circuit benefiting the Human
Rights Campaign and Parents, Families, and Friends of
Lesbians and Gays. For the tour's second year
Lauper has pulled in another dream roster of queer and
queer-friendly performers -- Rosie O'Donnell,
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the Indigo Girls,
Margaret Cho, Kat DeLuna, Tegan and Sara. The L.A. lineup
boasts British trio the Puppini Sisters, comedian
Wanda Sykes, Carson Kressley of Queer Eye fame,
and the B-52s.
At 25, I'm
one of the infants in the crowd. Almost everyone else looks
to be around 40, which would make them 15 when
Lauper's 1983 debut, She's So Unusual,
broke Billboard records with hits "Girls Just
Want to Have Fun," "Time After Time,"
and "She Bop." A woman to my left is
sporting the same hair-sprayed bangs she probably wore
to prom in the '80s and earnestly breaking out the
same dance moves. But Lauper and the B-52s were soon
to prove their staying power.
Attendees look to
be evenly split between L and G, with a good amount of
B, T, Q and A thrown in. It makes sense: Lauper and all the
acts she's picked have the irresistible mix of
gay-friendly camp and lesbian-friendly womyn power
epitomized in Lauper's femme anthem "Girls
Just Want to Have Fun."
Before Cyndi hits
the stage, we get the Puppini Sisters (not actual
sisters), a '40s-throwback act inspired by the
cartoon threesome in the 2003 film The Triplets of
Belleville, sporting bouffants and brightly
colored dresses. The already drunk lesbians next to me
break into swing dancing.
"Host" Carson Kressley is a bit of a let-down,
with semiwitty observations that might pass as funny
after six martinis: He repeatedly tells some poor soul
in the audience, "Those latex pants are going to
make your vagina really wet." The lesbian mom in
front of me cups her 11-year-old daughter's
ears and whispers earnestly to her, either in an
attempt at distraction or an impromptu anatomy lesson.
comedian Wanda Sykes, currently playing best friend to Julia
Louis-Dreyfus's title character on The New
Adventures of Old Christine but second fiddle
to no one tonight, has the crowd guffawing. She
pictures an Obama White House with glee, then cautions,
"But then who will we blame for things? You
can't blame the Man when you are the
her with the air of a drunk queen getting meaner and
meaner as the night goes on and he hasn't gotten
laid. "If you want to bum-rush the stage and
make out with me, go ahead!" he says. Nervous
Thank God the
B-52s rescue him. My memories of the '80s are hazy
(lots of toddling), but I do remember my Valley Girl
babysitter handing me pom-poms and dancing me around
to the B-52s' "Love Shack" video. I was
thrilled to find out the whole group is gay or bi except for
blond singer Cindy Wilson, and equally thrilled to
find out they are incredibly weird. These are people
who can convince you during "Rock Lobster"
that they know what a narwhal sounds like
("Brrrpllu! Brrrpull!") and that it's
distinct from a manta ray ("Bllrrp!
Bllrrrp!"). New songs from their 2008 CD,
Funplex, are equally loopy, surreal, and danceable.
Lead singer Fred Schneider, clearly delighted to be
performing for his people, camps it up for all
he's worth, winking at the crowd during "Love
Shack" when he announces his Chrysler is as
"big as a whale."
hammers on the theme of the night, which is
"Vote" and, implicitly, "Vote
Democratic." "We can't tell you who to
vote for," he says. "Just don't
vote inane." (An especially appropriate
admonition since McCain this week announced his support for
the California ballot initiative to outlaw gay
bursts onto the stage in suit and a hat, her look and
demeanor referencing musical theater, clown, and '80s punk
all at once. The consummate hostess, she opens her
Human Right Campaign/PFLAG pitch with an apologetic,
"I don't want to intrude on your
space..." and ends with a cheer-inducing
"If you don't include yourself and vote,
how're we all going to be included?" Somehow
political platitudes sound completely fresh and
genuine in her Betty Boop accent.
Lauper goes on to
have an infectiously great time on her set. Her voice
still effortless and her emotion raw, she milks hits like
"She Bop" for all they're worth
and repeatedly hops off the stage stage to dance with
the audience. Halfway through, her gay sister Ellen joins
her on guitar, to riotous applause.
For encore number
2, out comes the entire lineup -- Wanda, Carson, the
Puppini Sisters -- tossing out giant balloons for the crowd
to bat around. Comedian Jane Lynch sneaks onstage from
the audience to join the line. (Watching Lynch take
mock-angry swipes at giant balloons is sheer comic
delight.) They launch into a group rendition of "True
Colors" dedicated to Lauper's friend who
died of AIDS.
We troop out in a
happy daze to strains of "Over the Rainbow."
Somehow, in Lauper-land, which is sort of like Sesame
Street, it's OK to sing show tunes with a crowd
of middle-aged people, so making my way down the
stairs, I meet the eye of a gray-haired man and we belt out
together, "Where troubles melt like lemon drops
away above the chimney tops that's whe-e-ere
you'll fi-i-ind me..."