The only problem with "Cyndi Lauper in Paris" (HBO, tonight at 10) is that Lauper doesn't get to show her true colors often enough. Though she's wisely putting some distance between her origins as a carrot-topped zany given to bag lady fashions and her future as a mainstream pop singer, Lauper is apparently not quite sure her fans are ready to follow her. Thus she vacillates in this hour-long concert, filmed at Le Zenith theater in Paris, between her hyperkinetic Betty Boop persona and her far more rewarding new self. It's as though she's switching from helium to oxygen.
In performance, some of the songs that seemed wimpy and ineffective on Lauper's second solo album gain a new edge and urgency. "Boy Blue," about a young friend's death, is framed in genuinely wrenching emotions rather than mere showmanship; "Change of Heart" is poignant if a bit dragged out; "Iko Iko" is more fluid and playful. Even Lauper's remake of Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Goin' On" seems more assured, less nasal and histrionic.
The breakthrough hits from her debut album are generally well served up, particularly the reflective "All Through the Night" and the punchy "Money Changes Everything." But one of her best tunes, "Time After Time," seems tired and a tad flat; this is also true of the choppy "She Bop" and of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," which just doesn't seem all that much fun anymore.
Because she made her initial reputation, at least in part, via goofy stage antics, Lauper seems to feel a need to occupy every space at once. She never meets a spot she can stand still on, and her tendency to bounce around, arms whirling, adrenalin rushing, sometimes works against her material. It's as if Lauper can't decide whether to be a singer or a go-go dancer, which is what she looks like toward the end of the concert, having stripped down to what looks like a cross between miniskirt and girdle.
Director Andy Morahan used 14 cameras, but while there are many angles, there's no consistent point of view. Given the MTV influence (a k a fear of projecting a fixed image onscreen for more than a second), things occasionally get disjointed, producing the visual equivalent of frantic dial-switching on a car radio. Which is too bad, because while it's clear Lauper possesses an intriguing instrument and unbounded energy, they're both a bit unfocused right now. Still, Lauper shines through just often enough, as when she sings "True Colors" at concert's end, solo, a cappella, with the full house as chorus. It's a lovely moment, and confirmation that being unusual isn't as revealing, or rewarding, as simply being good