For the second summer in a row, Cyndi Lauper is out on tour with Rod Stewart.
The iconoclastic singer who stood with Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Prince as one of the biggest pop superstars of the mid-1980s — her 1983 album She's So Unusual yielded five hit singles and sold six million copies in the U.S. — is playing dates with one of her childhood heroes at the PPL Center in Allentown on Aug. 3 and at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Aug. 4.
For Lauper, hitting the road with Rod the Mod is a "bucket list" accomplishment.
"I grew up listening to Rod Stewart, and trying to squeeze my voice together in the shower to make that sound," says the singer and LGBT activist who has also found success as a Broadway composer.
"I used to take my microphone cord and try to swing it up and down like him," Lauper says, recalling her days as a would-be rock star growing up in Astoria, Queens. "Unfortunately, I used to trip myself when I was doing it. So of course I'm going to tour with him. I'm thrilled to be able to do that."
Lauper's excitement is that much keener because her health travails of recent years that had been sapped her strength have eased.
In 2010, the now 65-year-old "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" singer began suffering from psoriasis, the chronic skin condition for which she now serves as an awareness-raising spokesperson on behalf of both the National Psoriasis Foundation and Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical company.
Lauper recently stopped by the offices of the Inquirer and Daily News on a publicity tour. She was willing to talk about career accomplishments, such as the Tony award she won for scoring the hit show Kinky Boots in 2013 (she was also nominated for SpongeBob SquarePants this year) or her True Colors Fund, which works to end homelessness among LGBT youth.
But Lauper was much more focused on raising awareness of the auto-immune disease.
"It's easier for me to talk about it now, just because I'm better," the singer said. "And just that I'm able to wear a shirt and show my shoulders is unbelievable. Because for five years, I was hiding everything. I was trying to cover it with makeup, I was spray painting myself."
In 2013, when Lauper was on tour with Cher, "my skin became more inflamed and I couldn't regulate my body temperature because I was always cold. I started making jokes about it on stage, and that's when the drug company contacted my manager."
That led Lauper to connect with other psoriasis sufferers, many of whom appear in the video for her song "Hope," which she released last October as part of the See Me campaign, which offers information to about psoriasis at SeeMeToKnow.com.
"It just changed everything. First of all to know that I wasn't alone and that I didn't have the saddest story. Because a lot of people have it pretty bad. Some had suffered all their lives. People said to me, 'Well, I'm glad you'll be speaking for us now.' That was when it took on a different weight for me.'"
When she started suffering with the disease, Lauper says, she had many tasks at hand. She was working on her book Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, which was published in 2012. While on tour in Europe, she heard from her friend Harvey Fierstein, who wanted her to write the songs for Kinky Boots.
She gave playwright Fierstein credit for pushing her. "If it wasn't for him calling me up and yelling, 'Where are my lyrics?' I don't know what I would have done."
Lauper's next Broadway project is an adaption of the 1988 movie Working Girl, for which he's writing songs with Rob Hyman of Philadelphia's Hooters.
Her connection with the band and the city goes back to her early success. After fronting the rock band Blue Angel in the late 1970s, she began working with Rick Chertoff, the University of Pennsylvania grad who produced the Hooters' hit 1980s albums, Nervous Night and One Way Home.
Both Hyman and Hooter Eric Bazilian played on She's So Unusual. The album's hits included the indomitable feminist anthem "Girls," penned by late Philadelphia rocker Robert Hazard and whose MTV hit video featured wrestling manager Capt. Lou Albano, and "Time After Time," the soft-focus ballad written with Hyman that became a staple of jazzman Miles Davis' sets before his death in 1991.
The album was recorded in New York, "but we came to Manayunk all the time. Rick used to drive and listen to music and talk and rehearse, and Cookie from downstairs used to bang on the ceiling and threaten our lives because we were too loud. We would go out for cheesesteaks and come back and rehearse more. Manayunk is a different place now. It was so much fun. So neighborhoody."
Lauper's relationship with the LGBT community has grown stronger over the years. "True Colors," her 1986 hit song written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, champions individuality, in keeping with the anything goes artistic identity she established with "She's So Unusual."
"True Colors" quickly became a gay anthem that won new fans for Lauper, whose sister is lesbian. She later wrote "Above the Clouds" in memory of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old student who was killed in a hate crime near Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 and recorded it with British guitarist Jeff Beck.
In 2010, Lauper, who is married to actor David Thornton and has a 20-year-old son, Declyn, founded the Give a Damn campaign to urge straight people to get involved in gay rights issues. The next year, she founded the True Colors Residence in Harlem, a housing facility for LGBT youth.
Lauper says she got motivated to be more involved in LGBT issues in the early '00s when George W. Bush was president. "I started to get real fed up with the way things were going. Many members of the LGBT community were disheartened that they couldn't marry and that they had no rights.
"And I thought, you know what, somebody's got to stand up. … I wanted to do a tour and somebody said why don't you do a True Colors tour and I said if it's going to be called the True Colors tour it has to be about the community because the community has embraced that song."
Lauper's recorded output this decade has taken a surprise turn. In 2010, she released an album of blues and R&B covers called Memphis Blues. In 2016, she went country with Detour.
"I did those things because when I started I was in a rockabilly band," she says. "And blues and country mixed together make rock and roll. I did it to go back and learn. To connect, to walk in the footprints of the great people that walked through Memphis."
When her condition was at its worse, Lauper says it sapped her energy and weakened her singing voice. "It took my strength away."
But she never considered quitting. "Back when I was in Blue Angel I saw a poster that said 'Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from their appointed rounds.'" To Lauper that creed, usually associated with the U.S. Postal Service, "is more of a life motto. I don't think of it in terms of showbiz. I think of the direction or path I want to go in life."
With medication, a no carb diet and the connection she felt with other sufferers, who can be found at psoriasis.org, Lauper says, "I've been clear for three years."
And that, she says, will make her that much of a better performer with Stewart — who she says is "a little crazy, he has that English sense of humor, kind of like Benny Hill" — when she comes to Allentown and Atlantic City. "You know what?" she says. "I'm going to sing so much better because I'm clear. I got my strength back."