Celebrity fascinates Cyndi Lauper. She told the 9:30 club crowd on Tuesday that she wrote the unreleased dance number "It's a Beautiful Thing" after a night of rubbing elbows with the glitterati in a New York club. And she dished on, among others, Anna Nicole Smith, Larry King and even Cher, whose place in the celebrity pantheon Lauper stands to inherit -- just as soon as Cher follows through on that retirement pledge.

"Cher's still out there, bless her!" Lauper said in a Queens accent that's as much of a trademark for her as her bleached and streaked hairdos.

Lauper, now 49, has toured with Cher for the last few years as an opening act. On this night, Lauper abused the time privileges afforded headliners. Time after time, to use her phrase, Lauper killed the show's momentum by telling lengthy stories that, because of the room's acoustics, much of the crowd couldn't even hear.

But whenever she got around to playing, Lauper dazzled. The set's soft-rock highlights included "Sally's Pigeons," a ballad she wrote with Mary Chapin Carpenter about childhood wonderment that ends with a heavy abortion rights moral, and "True Colors," a pop song from 1986 that has aged beautifully. Over time, the track has become an anthem for the gay community, which was well represented in the crowd. Though a head cold had her sniffling, Lauper fought through the congestion and hit a few minutes worth of stratospherically high notes while covering Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."

With its processed guitars and synth, "It's Hard to Be Me" (which Lauper dedicated to Smith, the beleaguered gold digger and cable TV star) harked back to early MTV faves the Hooters. The song was written by ex-Hooter Rob Hyman, who arranged or wrote nearly all of Lauper's classic singles. When the show ended with their most famous collaboration, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," it wasn't only the girls who danced.

-- Dave McKenna