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Kinky Boots - Broadway

Broadway's new high-heeled hit is the winner of six Tony Awards including Best Musical!

Tony Winner Stephen Oremus on Orchestrating Kinky Boots and Mastering ‘Lauperese’

Tony Winner Stephen Oremus on Orchestrating Kinky Boots and Mastering ‘Lauperese’
Stephen Oremus
'As we continued to develop the songs, we taught each other a lot about how we both make music.'

About the author:
As a Broadway orchestrator, music supervisor and vocal arranger, Stephen Oremus is the man who helped craft the unique sound of the blockbuster musicals The Book of Mormon, Wicked, Avenue Q, 9 to 5 and, most recently, Kinky Boots. The New Jersey native and Berklee College of Music grad has also worked with Rufus Wainwright and co-produced the 9 to 5 cast recording with Dolly Parton. Below, the two-time Tony Award winner recalls his long history as a Cyndi Lauper fan and the joy of working with the Tony and Grammy winner on her first Broadway musical. From their initial meeting at Lauper’s apartment to mastering the pop star’s one-of-a-kind speaking style, Oremus formed a special bond with the legendary lady behind Kinky Boots.



In the spring of 1984, at the age of 13, I went to see my first concert at what was then called the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey. It was Cyndi Lauper on her “Fun Tour ’84”, touring for her first album, She’s So Unusual. It was one of the most amazingly energetic and thrilling things I have ever seen. I knew every word to every song, and I danced and sang along while the crowd went wild.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2009: Jerry Mitchell gave me a call and told me he was working on a musical adaptation of the film Kinky Boots with Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper, and asked if I would be interested in coming on board to work with Cyndi on making her score come to life. I had recently worked with several pop artists on musicals, including Dolly Parton (9 to 5) and Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters (Tales of the City), and so I was excited to delve into pop territory again for a new Broadway musical.

I met Cyndi for the first time at her apartment so we could get to know each other and start working on some of the music. It was very early on, and she had only written a few songs. I sat down at her piano and we started talking about the songs and worked on a few things together. I said to her, “You know, you were my first concert in 1984!” She didn’t say anything, and we kept working. About 20 minutes later, she said, “Oh my god, I was really your first concert? You saw the ‘Fun Tour ’84?’ Oh honey, this has to be so weird for you. But ya know what? You’re really good!”

She was right that it was weird. And of course I was thrilled at the compliment. But it was a completely transcendent experience to be sitting at the piano and playing while THE Cyndi Lauper was singing. I truly couldn’t believe it was happening to me and that it looked like I was going to be the lucky one to help translate her score to the stage.

Over the next several years, we continued to develop Kinky Boots. Songs came and went, and the show kept growing and changing. The thing that I found so brilliant about Cyndi is her unending quest for SPECIFICITY within each style of music. Even though it was an overall pop-infused score, every single song had to be crafted from the first note on the page to be specific to the character and story. She didn’t want to write a bunch of songs and dress them up in different pop styles, she wanted to get inside each character and write the song they needed in the style or sub-style that corresponded to that person.

We would be sitting there, working on music, and Cyndi would whip out her laptop (she goes nowhere without it) and go on iTunes or her massive music library and say, “No no no—this song is meant to sound more like a Luther Vandross tune” or “This has gotta sound more like Weezer”—songs that not just inspired her, but great songwriters who she felt the characters should be emulating when they expressed themselves. She wrote every song in the show with the desire to give the musical world a varied array of styles that would come together as a colorful, exciting, and cohesive score.

One day, my jaw almost dropped when Cyndi handed me a CD and said, “So, I need ‘What a Woman Wants’ to not just be any tango with a dance beat. I want it to sound like Piazzolla.” She was referring to Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine composer who pioneered the Nuevo Tango movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I thought, “Well, you can’t get more specific than that!” and went to work writing the orchestration. She constantly surprised me with her knowledge of such an enormous array of music and her great love for it—down to the smallest details—in everything she heard and shared.

As we continued to develop the songs, we taught each other a lot about how we both make music. I’m not saying we didn’t have differing opinions at times, but we developed a great common language as we continued to work, and I can now say I am fluent in “Lauperese.” We analyzed things together as we went, continuing to change it until it had the specific sound we both wanted. The most thrilling part of it all is that Cyndi’s music is always filled with such a celebratory energy and exuberance that grabs the listener, and often makes them want to jump up and dance.

So, here we are in 2013. Kinky Boots has touched so many people, and continues to send audiences out of the theater on a cloud. (Not to mention winning a few Tony Awards!) I feel so privileged to have been a part of helping Cyndi Lauper create a score out of these masterful songs. As an arranger (of vocals, dance, etc.) and an orchestrator, it has taught me so much about bringing a streamlined pop sound to a show while still taking it to more theatrical levels to keep developing the characters and story. I am so grateful to Jerry Mitchell for that phone call. And I will be forever grateful to Cyndi for the honor of getting the chance to make music with her, and make her proud of what we have created. It makes the 13-year-old me want to jump up and dance.

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