Combining a tremendous musicianship and Broadway pedigree with a gloriously simple concept of performing in their underthings, Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina’s popular duo The Skivvies return to one of their favorite local venues this week.
Thotyssey: Hello Nick and Lauren, thanks for chatting with us today! So we’re already halfway through summer… how has the season been treating you so far?
Lauren Molina: It’s been a great summer so far. I finally returned to my first theatre show since the pandemic in an off-Broadway play called Goldie Max and Milk which ended in June. I’ve seen tons of theatre and live music both indoors and out, had some nice reunions with old friends and rescued five kittens and found them homes.
Nick Cearley: We’ve just been gigging a lot and traveling a lot. I’ve been back and forth to P-Town a lot, as my husband and I opened a gallery there for his art.
How did you two get through the Covid lockdown era? Do you have any digital show horror stories?
N: We did a lot of virtual content as Skivvies, and as actors too. For Laguna Playhouse, we made two virtual radio plays for them: It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play and The Importance of Being Earnest: A Radio Play. And we also shot a virtual revival of the musical Brooklyn starring Diana DeGarmo. I also shot First Date: The Musical as well. We did many outdoor concerts, virtual streaming concerts, and recorded our long awaited debut album!
L: What Nick said. In addition, I did many virtual readings of plays–from new works, to Shaw, to Rabbit Hole which I’d love to do in real life. No horror stories, but I did just get tired of the screen. During the lockdown, I got very involved into activism in my community of Harlem on a local level, and political volunteering. I also recorded an EP with my other band, The Booklights. And I watched a lot of TV and movies during 2020.
The Skivvies, of course, are a live music duo most commonly found in cabaret venues across the country who perform standards, showtunes, rearranged pop hits and general oddities with a wide range of instruments and nearly no clothes! Are you both New York-based when you’re not touring?
Nick: Yes we both live in NY. I have lived all over, but I primarily like to hibernate in my cabin in Greenwood Lake, NY about an hour north of the city. I also sublet.
Nick, you were regularly in the audience for Brita Filter’s “Lady Liberty” drag competition this past season, and even joined us in the judges’ chambers one week! How fun was that show?
N: I absolutely loved Lady Liberty. I would go to support my favorite queen Willa Mania on Thursday nights in her competitions. I always lost my voice screaming loudly for her.
So where are you both from originally, and how did you both become so musically inclined with so many instruments over the years?
L: I’m from Detroit, MI, and my parents are both in the arts. My dad is the assistant principal bassist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and my mom is a dancer. I started piano at four years old, and cello at nine years. I taught myself guitar in high school, and performed in rock bands since then.
N: I’m from Fairfield, Ohio which is between Cincinnati and Dayton. My dad is very musical, and my family owned a bunch of dance studios since before I was born. My grandma and grandpa actually met playing in the town band. It’s in my blood, for sure.
What were your solo careers like before (and since) you came together? I know you both are mostly musical theater-oriented!
N: After I graduated college at the Boston conservatory, I met Lauren in our first equity job. I did the Broadway first national of All Shook Up. Off Broadway: Pageant: The Musical, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cupid and Psyche, and Sex Tips. I’ve also done the play Buyer and Cellar for a record breaking nine different productions across the country.
L: After I graduated from the University of Michigan, my first professional gig was supposed to be singing on a cruise ship. However, right after that fell through, fate intervened… and I miraculously got a call that I booked a Theatreworks USA tour of Just So Stories, where I met Nick Cearley. I was on Broadway as the cello playing Johanna in the John Doyle directed revival of Sweeney Todd, and as Regina in Rock of Ages. Favorite roles Off-Broadway include Bella in Desperate Measures, Her in Marry Me a Little, and very recently Goldie in Goldie, Max and Milk. Regional faves include: Cunegunde in Candide, Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, and Eileen in Wonderful Town.
What were the situations that inspired you to form the Skivvies with their specific look and sound?
L: The birth of the Skivvies was very organic, as it started by stripping down songs and filming them for YouTube. We love putting our spin and humor on arrangements to make people hear songs in a fresh and new way. Cello and ukulele is the core of the Skivvies sound, and it feels very authentically us. The underwear part is just a silly and fun addition. It just so happens that Nick and I are both comfortable in undies on stage (we’ve both done theatrical shows that required that as costumes).
N: We have very similar senses of music and comedy. We like quirk. We like to think outside the box. We like to play and continue to create non-stop with as little takes as possible.
The cabaret environment is interesting because on one hand it’s known for showcasing very traditional jazz and classic standards, but on the other hand it can foster really “weird” and innovative acts like Kiki & Herb! How did those audiences first receive the Skivvies with their minimal wardrobe and varied setlists? And has that perception changed over time?
N: Our first concert, we sat down, just the two of us, me hidden behind sunglasses, and we played 13 songs at Joe’s Pub. Six of those songs had a special guest as a singer. Before we started that show, I remember thinking, well I hope this goes okay… and if it doesn’t, we will never do it again and move on. Luckily, it was very positively received and ten years later, our band has grown, our sound has grown, we have a catalogue of hundreds of songs, we have a residency, and it was the best decision to commit to.
L: I think people wanted something different when it came to the cabaret scene. We broke out of traditional appearances and sound, challenging what could be respected as music and comedy. We were immediately embraced, and that was a good feeling. After shows, I’d have fellow artists tell me how inspired they felt after watching or performing with us, as it allowed a fun expression of freedom and individuality that many didn’t get the chance to ever do before on a New York stage. I think what has changed over time is now people know us more for the Skivvies than for our theatre careers. We push body positivity and inclusivity, and having a platform to be outspoken about such topics is empowering.
Do you color coordinate your underwear before shows, lol? And knock on wood what happens when something, like, tears on onstage? Are there any brands you swear by to prevent this from happening?
N: I’ve been lucky, except once or twice when a ball has popped out. I don’t swear by a brand, I just wear what is appropriate and flattering for my body. I don’t give it too much thought. But when we have fun events or themes to coordinate with, we always call the costume designer DW and he will make us look fabulous always.
L: I always mix up my looks and designers. I would love to be sponsored! Anyone out there listening?
Have you had an all-time favorite performance or performing moment?
L: We have had so many wonderfully wild moments onstage, in theatre productions, even filming pilots for TV. But the most all-time favorite moment was recently, in Florida. For the past seven years, we’ve taught and performed (in clothes) at the high school Florida State Thespians festival. This March, as the “Don’t Say Gay” laws were happening, our concert for the kids was held at the Tampa Theatre. The show was a blast from the start, as the audience stood and sang along to every song. Mind you, this is the first in-person festival in three years, and these are all theatre kids… and they were so happy to be there. But my all-time favorite moment was when we all began chanting “gay” in this beautiful affirming moment of togetherness, empowerment and support. It reminded me of humanity, the future, why we do what we do, love, etc. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
N: I always love when our Skivvie-ness bleeds over into a theatre production, like when we have performed opposite each other in the Rocky Horror Show or You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
You’ve performed with so many talented and even famous folks from both music and musical theater over the years! How do you make these guest spots happen, and is it ever a challenge to talk any of them out of their clothes (lol)?
N: We always say “Skivvies is a state of mind,” and we cover the underwear part. The guests have complete free reign to wear whatever they want to play the game at the show. We like it to feel like a pajama party, honestly.
L: Body positivity. Wear what you feel good in. There should be no pressure to wear anything that you don’t feel confident wearing.
Did you folks ever participate in, or attend, the annual Broadway Bares show?
N: We actually opened for Broadway Bares, like, eight years ago. Love Broadway Bares!
As mentioned earlier, you released The Rocky Horror Skivvies Show album back in 2020, which is a recording of your annual Halloween tribute to Rocky Horror! I’m guessing that show was a big influence on you two.
N: We were both cast in a production of it in 2013 directed by Hunter Foster and choreographed by Lorin Latarro. I did it, like, five times after that production. I’m also a Halloween baby– was born on Halloween. We love every musical with the word “horror” in the title.
L: When we were Brad and Janet, I was not prepared for the shout outs from the audience. It was very challenging for me, that first week of performances–especially remembering my lines as they interrupted. It became fun in the end, but that was like being at a monster truck rally. I loved singing the music, and the campiness is so us. It only seemed natural to want to do a concert version of our own.
What’s the minimum amount of seconds that any good Frank N. Furter should wait between “antici-” and “-pation?”
N: Haha! I’d say that’s dealer’s choice. If the audience is begging, you make them beg.
How did you enjoy hosting the Tonys watch-along at Joe’s Pub? Did you have any strong reactions to the wins and snubs of the evening?
N: We’ve hosted the Tony viewing show for so many years at various venues… and this year was challenging. The venue couldn’t get the feed to technically happen for 30 minutes, so we had to think fast and furious on our feet on how to cover as it really threw the entire plan off. And when you plan a show based on timed commercial breaks, it was … challenging! Yet we earned the drinks the audience was buying for us.
L: I thought the Tonys were all given out to great people, especially our dear friend Matt Doyle for Company. Also, it was thrilling to see Ariana host! They’ve both guest starred with the Skivvies, too.
On July 19, The Skivvies return to Joe’s Pub for a new show! What keeps you two coming back to that venue?
N: They were the first! They have a place in our hearts. Amazing sound. A cool vibe. They mean a lot to us. And we will be there every month but August, through the end of the year!
L: I can’t believe we are celebrating our 10 year anniversary at Joe’s Pub. Time goes by too fast. It’s my favorite venue in the city. I love the Public Theatre, and it’s an honor to be a staple there.
N: We lost Tovah this go round to a movie she booked, but she’s back with us on September 12!
What can we expect from this week’s show?
L: A night of fun, silly, funny, smart, sexy, groovy music performed by badass beautiful humans.
We must ask for your feedback on Tovah’s announced casting in Funny Girl, who will be joining Lea Michelle to replace two heavily discussed actors in the current Broadway production. It’s the most talked-about Broadway news in town! What are your thoughts about this casting, the drama, and maybe in general the whole emphasis on casting big names to carry shows?
N: I think it’s unfortunate Beanie was treated a certain way. I am glad, though, that they are able to keep a show open for everyone that works there. No one wants to lose a job, so I’m happy for anyone if they are happy and working.
L: I feel awful for Beanie, and I wish her replacement didn’t have a history of being awful to others. I am a fan of Tovah, so I’m over the moon she got it. I’m glad people have jobs too.
Anything else coming up for you two?
N: I’m leaving next week to do Little Shop again–this time in Saugatuck, which is a city I’ve never been to but have heard amazing things. We have a gazillion Skivvies concerts booked through the end of the year as well. It’s always a delicate balance of theatre work and Skivvies in a year.
L: Besides upcoming Skivvies shows, I will be singing at Chelsea Table and Stage on July 24. In August, I’m traveling and doing a reading of a new play by one of my favorite playwrights, Itamar Moses.
And finally: you two also do a lot of acting and producing in your own versions of musicals and plays. What’s a dream show you’d like to Skivvies-ify someday?
N: We have actually co conceived and did a production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown where the six Peanuts characters are also the band. It was a dream come true, and there are plans for it to come to NYC in 2023… fingers crossed. But other ones I often daydream about are Oliver and Once Upon a Mattress.
L: Maybe a full production of our adaptation of The Importance of Being Ernest, or The Full Monty.
Thanks, Nick and Lauren!