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Monday, July 8, 2013

Guest Blogger Kevin Scott Hall: Cyndi Lauper

Author (Off the Charts), columnist, critic for Edge NY, Bistro Awards Committee Member and friend, Kevin Scott Hall has graciously written this column. He is my second guest columnist. My first guest was The Engin33r back in May. ( Many thanks, Kevin! (And Tristan, aka Engin33r!)

It's been a blockbuster year for Cyndi Lauper, having won the Tony Award for Best Original Score for Broadway’s “Kinky Boots,” just two weeks shy of her 60th birthday. Not one to take a break, this summer, Lauper has embarked on a 30th anniversary concert of “She’s So Unusual” (the hits started coming in ’84, but she tells the audience it was made in ’83), her landmark solo debut that has sold over 16 million copies to date. At the time, she was the first female artist to generate four Top Five singles from an album. [Incidentally, Lauper has also won two Grammys and an Emmy, so she’s just an Oscar away from obtaining the coveted quartet of top tier showbiz prizes.] Although she hasn’t had a mainstream Top 40 hit since 1989 [Though many Billboard club charters -- Dj BB], she has kept busy on the dance, blues, standards and Christmas charts, among others.
I was fortunate enough to catch Cyndi’s concert in much-improved Atlantic City (more on that later) in the Taj Mahal Casino. I hesitated giving Dumpster Trumpster any of my money, but Cyndi was a player on his “Celebrity Apprentice,” after all. The auditorium itself was spacious and acoustically pleasing, but the seating consisted of what looked like the kind of padded kitchen chairs your grandmother used to have. They were strapped snugly together so that if you were seated next to a large person, as I was, it was a tight fit. However, we were not in our seats for long.

Cyndi appeared on stage looking and acting like a teenager, her red dreads flying as she danced around the stage to her opening number, “Money Changes Everything” (I doubt the irony was lost on smart Cyndi that she was singing this in a casino). Her voice was as defiant as ever, and when she repeated “Money!” several times at the end of the song, in an impossibly high wail, everybody was on their feet. She held the final note for at least half a minute.
From there, she covered the entire album, hits and non-hits alike. Lauper explained that the show was for the fans, saying, “I’m singing the same arrangements that were on the record for, like, the first time evah!” She was also quite talkative, which didn’t please everyone in the crowd, but she was feisty when someone yelled from the audience: “Lady, I don’t know what your problem is, but I hope it all works out for ya!” Or she would chide all of us for not singing our lines loudly enough: “I’m workin’ my ass off up here and that’s all ya got?”
For true fans, though, the long-winded stories were wonderful: how Bob Dylan moved away from her when she approached him at the “We Are the World” taping; meeting Bruce Springsteen at the Record Plant while she was recording, and how he seemed puzzled by her attempts to joke with him; how she created a private dark room where she could do her thing while singing “She Bop”; having Ellie Greenwich singing backup on “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”; and how her boyfriend at the time inspired the words to “Time After Time.”
Besides the hits, standouts were “I’ll Kiss Ya” and “He’s So Unusual” (which prompted another story of how the album’s title came about. Although the entire concert of the album took just sixty-five minutes to perform, she returned for two extended encores. The first was an energetic pairing of her dance version of “Sex is in the Heel” (from “Kinky Boots”) and “Change of Heart.” For her final encore, she came out with just her keyboardist and brought the audience to tears with “Hatful of Stars” (her ode to her husband of twenty years) and, finally, the magical “True Colors.” As always, Cyndi does not phone it in and perhaps the best is still yet to come for this unique diva.
Although Cyndi has been a champion of LGBT rights for years, one would have been hard-pressed to find one’s gaydar going off in the concert hall. The crowd seemed mostly older, suburban straight couples. But it was nice to see her appeal is across-the-board.
And speaking of LGBT, I had to check out the first ever gay bar in a casino, Pro Bar on the thirteenth floor of Resorts (once owned by one of the biggest closet queens of all time, Merv Griffin—I wonder if he’s rolling over in his grave). Among all gay bars, this is the crown jewel: a piano bar, a video bar, and a showroom. You can walk out onto the balcony to get views of the glittering Boardwalk and feel the ocean breezes. The rooms are furnished with velvet-topped barstools, sweeping drapes, and curved damask sofas and Queen Anne chairs. Personally, I missed the neighborhood grittiness of the Brass Rail (now closed), but Pro Bar is a fine step up into the upper class for gay patrons and their friends. The other good news is that AC seems to be recovering nicely from Hurricane Sandy (most of the damage was on the bay side, I was told), and the pleasures of people-watching on the kitschy Boardwalk make this a far more pleasurable visit than that expensive display of fakery out in the unbearable desert.

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