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She Still Bops

She Still Bops


With Cyndi Lauper and a who's who of queer and queer-friendly talent, the True Colors tour is entertainment for all orientations and all generations.

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 hugs.

Saturday's 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.

In contrast, 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 Man."

Kressley follows 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 silence.

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."

Schneider also 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 marriage.)

Then Lauper 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..."

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