Just over a year after joining Rod Stewart to kick off his 2018 summer tour, Cyndi Lauper returned for the first of two nights at the Hollywood Bowl. She was joined by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for a night of classic tunes spanning her nearly four decade career, although not everything went exactly as planned.
Opening act Cécile McLoren Salvant, who has had a fairly meteoric rise since winning the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010, performed an eight-song set with the the Aaron Diehl Trio. Most songs were selections from musicals and Hollywood classics, but she also sang a couple of her originals, like “Fog” from her 2015 album For One to Love. Her voice was smoky and sultry with trailing trills like a contemporary Billy Holliday, showing an authoritative range, especially on her rendition of “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, her voice effortlessly traversing multiple octaves, answered and echoed by a bouncing piano solo by Diehl.
Much of Salvant’s set was played to a restless audience as the Bowl slowly approached capacity. But just after 9 p.m., once the orchestra had tuned and the band took up their instruments, the audience quieted as conductor Thomas Wilkins took the mic saying, “I don’t know what to tell you—she’s sold 50 million records for crying out loud. There are stars and there are superstars, and we have a superstar.”
To the descending arpeggios of “All Through the Night,” Cyndi Lauper, clad in an impossibly sparkling gold suit with matching high heel ankle boots and an explosive platinum spiked bouffant anchored by hoop earrings the circumference of softballs, commanded the stage and catwalk through three love songs: “All Through the Night,” “I Drove All Night” and a somber take on The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” From there, it was her disarming stage persona that made the show.
“I thought I would do women’s stories, bein’ one myself,” she said in that blunt, outer-borough accent that has thankfully stood the test of time. She then regaled the audience on the silliness of the actual content of some of her songs, like that girl who “drove all through the night,” and what she herself went through as a young woman navigating a life defined by relationships, and how she tried to cope like through meditation and crystals. “Those fuckin’ rocks are heavy! They break, and you take them back to the store and they say they won’t work any more.”
Her answer to this quandary, to the pleasure of the more vocal portion of the audience, was to love herself. “I spent a lot of time loving myself, and it goes like this,” she said.
From there she dive bombed into the whooping, crunching waves of “She Bop.” This is where Lauper’s immediacy of mind in a way became the star of the show, as well as the commentator of its unraveling. Having crouched to unzip and remove what must have been uncomfortable ankle boots mid song, and now performing in her bare feet, she took a step, and shocked blurted out, “Oh my god.” She crouched on the drum dais to examine the bottom of her feet, picking at her heel, with the band still playing, she still singing. As it turned out, and would become a sort of running joke for the rest of the show, she had stepped on a bee after removing her boots, both killing it and getting stung by it in the same step. For the rest of the concert her moves were relatively hobbled, comically limping across the catwalk she had pranced across only a couple songs earlier. It didn’t exactly diminish the experience of seeing her, it simply enhanced it by allowing one who is so unusual to be so unusual, which benefits from the influence of the adverse to test one’s mettle.
For the rest of the show, as she thrilled, animated and entertained—in the truest, most sincere way—the audience, the tragedy of the bee and the plight of the women became running themes in the rich banter that wasn’t necessarily performance, but just Cyndi Lauper being Cyndi Lauper.
The two-song encore, which followed show-stopper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” was led by 1993 song “A Part Hate,” for which she was joined by the rainbow-clad children of The Country School Choir. She then closed with a stripped-down version of “True Colors” with Lauper on dulcimer and a reserved orchestra playing behind her. It was a fitting note to end on, the concentric semi-circles of the Bowl’s shell lit to make an actual rainbow, which may be a bit on the nose, but as with all things Lauper, things are better once you disregard the fluff and call it for what it is.
Saturday’s show should be bee-free, but if not, Lauper will undoubtedly call it out, like she does everything that stings, and that can only be a good thing.
Cyndi Lauper Setlist
All Through the Night
I Drove All Night
I’m Gonna Be Strong
Time After Time
Money Changes Everything
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
A Part Hate