This past June, 59-year-old Cyndi Lauper—an enduring and consistently surprising presence on the American pop-music scene—won a Tony award for her score to the Broadway musical Kinky Boots. The accolade was a remarkable achievement for the Queens, N.Y. native, particularly given that it was for her debut in the medium. But let us flash back 26 years to 1987 when Lauper, then known primarily as a peppy, kooky pop singer with a string of hits behind her, was gearing up for a debut of a different sort. She’d been cast in her first acting role, in Vibes, a high-concept comedy about a pair of hapless psychics who travel to Ecuador in order to help a shady figure obtain a mystical golden relic. Unfortunately, unlike Kinky Boots, the outcome wasn’t particularly rewarding.
The portents were ominous from the beginning. Dan Aykroyd was cast as the male lead, but bailed because he felt uneasy about Lauper’s intuitive acting style. As Lauper recalls in her 2012 memoir: “We did a reading together…I was totally green, and nobody told me how to do it. And when Dan saw what I did, I guess he felt my approach was just wrong and he kept saying, ’How are you going to talk to your spirit guide?’” Aykroyd was replaced by Jeff Goldblum, but another setback followed when original director Ron Howard, who’d recently hit big with Splash and Cocoon, suddenly dropped out, leaving relative rookie Ken Kwapis (Follow That Bird) to take over.