Back in the days of New Wave, say, 1983, Cyndi Lauper was viewed as pretty unusual.
Her first record, She's So Unusual, went against the tide. Here was a diminutive, swaggering Brooklyn redhead with a high voice, higher energy - and a sophisticated pop album, recorded with barely known Philly musicians.
"It was my debut record, so we weren't really under the microscope of the label," says Lauper, about to visit Philly with Cher for a Wells Fargo Center show on Monday. "We made that record exactly how we wanted it."
She's So Unusual sold 22 million copies worldwide, with its biggest hit, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," penned by Philly guy Robert Hazard, and the ballad "Time After Time," co-written with Rob Hyman of the Hooters. Fellow Hooter Eric Bazilian, played on it, too. The producer: University of Pennsylvania grad Rick Chertoff.
That's a lot of Philly flavor, readily apparent on Lauper's recently released remastered package of original tracks and demos, She's So Unusual: A 30th Anniversary Celebration.
"It was such fun to go back and really listen to the record, for one," says Lauper. "Then to go search out some early demos that none of us - Chertoff, Hyman, me - had listened to . . . for 30 years was like being able to really revisit that moment in time."
Lauper, 60, won a 2013 Tony Award as composer for Harvey Fierstein's Kinky Boots. (The road show comes to the Academy of Music in spring 2015.) And she's touring with Cher, the third time the two pals have run together in the last 15 years.
"You have to realize that both of us want to deliver a kick-ass show," says Lauper. "That's what drives us both. I do 40-minute vocal warm-up, the outfits, the hair, you get the drill."
How did she get involved in Kinky Boots? "Harvey called me the day after I had just gotten off tour. I was actually doing dishes when the phone rang. Short version: 'Hey, do you want to work with me on a Broadway musical?' and before he could finish the sentence or tell me what the project was, I said 'Yes!' You see, it's always been my dream to write songs for a Broadway show," says Lauper in one breath. "It was exhilarating, hard work, and regarding the national tour, I'll be at all the casting and early rehearsals."
Hazard's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" originally was written from a male point of view. Lauper says producer Chertoff immediately saw how, if she changed its arrangement and some lyrics, it could be a song of feminine empowerment. "That's what I did," she says. "It's how you approach it, how you deliver a song that can alter its original meaning or perspective."
"We always talked about how the best pop songs were written in 10 minutes," says Hyman via e-mail. (The Hooters are currently on tour in Germany.) " 'Time After Time' was pretty close. She suggested the title from a Malcolm McDowell sci-flick, I heard a way to sing it. I do remember finishing up some lyrics with Cyn over the phone after I was back in Philly, but it all went down very quickly, including Cyndi's amazing vocal, simple and so emotional."
As for working with the then-barely known Hooters and their untried producer Chertoff, Lauper acknowledges how Philly She's So Unusual was. She and Hyman wrote "Time After Time" easily and fast ("Honestly, it just happened"), and she dug Hyman and Bazilian's band.
"I really loved how they incorporated reggae into their records and wanted a taste of that flavor on mine. So we rehearsed and recorded the demos at a funky old rehearsal space we lovingly called 'The Ranch,' which, believe me, was anything but," she says. They endured a bitter Manayunk with no heat.
"It was pretty funky out there then," says Lauper. "I understand it's got quite a scene there, with good restaurants and clubs. That's fine now, but back then, it was basic cheesesteaks for us."