I first saw Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina perform in their underwear late on a Monday night at 54 Below, the stunning, intimate cabaret located in the basement of the theater that formerly contained the infamous Studio 54 (they have a repeat performance there tonight, July 5).
The duo, known as The Skivvies, performed a mix of hip-hop, R&B, pop songs, Broadway hits, and standards--accompanied by Molina on cello and Cearley on ukulele (along with glockenspiel and other quirky instruments), a piano, sax, accordion, and drums--which didn't seem all that unusual. It's just a sexy gimmick to get people in the door, I imagined, I've seen plenty of takes on this sort of thing before. But then they got down to business, while dressed only in their cute red underthings (Cearley definitely understands the power of Andrew Christian's special "pouches").
The fact that both Cearley and Molina both take as much care of their bodies as their voices helps. I admit, it was nearly impossible not to scour their physiques, looking for an imperfection, admiring the bulges and muscles, but soon enough, all I could do was smile as they performed their comic medleys with enthusiasm. The naughty factor is compounded by their musical guests, many of them popular Broadway performers who are conscripted into family-friendly fare eight days a week, who seem to relish their chance to break out of those boundaries.
The lineup included Rory O'Malley, who knows how to push the right buttons, especially since he rose to fame in The Book of Mormon, who delivered a hilarious number dressed in one of those over-sized T-shirts printed with a woman's torso/bathing suit. Although he's played an adolescent cripple in Newsies, the mischievous-seeming Andrew Keenan-Bolger was proud to bare his considerable assets--which shouldn't be surprising since that entire cast of boys thrills audiences nightly with its athletic prowess--while singing "It's a Fuck You World," a play off his own stature which (and a sly reference to his Disney Broadway hit).
The entire concert would have been a wash if there wasn't serious talent involved--semi-nudity only carries an evening for so far. Two of the special guests proved that there was no question about that. Morgan James did a gender-bending strip tease from man to woman titled "Man's World" that was a mashup of Hall & Oates' "Maneater"/James Brown, "It's a Man's World"/Beyonce, "If I Were a Boy"/Aretha Franklin, "Do Right Woman"/Justin Timberlake, "Suit & Tie." Wow. Yeah, she can bring the house down when she belts (watch/listen to the clip below) and was jaw-dropping--no matter what she was wearing.
Before the end of the night, the amazing Laura Benanti also took the stage for a cute/sexy number, "Bootylicious Freak," that took her star power to an entirely new level (the hilarious pajama/jumper outfit also helped). Not to let things simmer for long, The Skivvies' upped the dirty factor with their single "Hardbody Hoedown" (available on iTunes and Amazon), that turned out to remain the dirtiest ditty of the night (check out the video directed by Running With Scissors author Augusten Burroughs below).
Ultimately, I was left feeling surprised and satisfied. The Skivvies have managed to carve out a niche that we never knew needed to exist: It's part Weird Al-parody and part sexy burlesque. The fact that everyone is having such a damn good time--while only needed slight intoxicants to lubricate the whole affair--only makes it that much more rewarding.
The lineup at the June 10 concert at 54 Below (from left): Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Alison Fraser, Leslie McDonel, Lauren Molina, Morgan James, Nick Cearley, Wesley Taylor, and Rory O'Malley | Photo by Isaac James
Now, of course, there's an expiration date to this sort of a shtick right? I mean, you can't keep all those parts in perfect shape forever. But who cares? For the moment, Cearley and Molina are having the time of their lives. Their Broadway buddies are joining in on the fun, and it's an unusual explosion of satire and sultry--something you certainly don't see every day. Want to see what I mean? Check out a selection of clips to enjoy.
WATCH Morgan James perform her "Man's World" medley:
WATCH a clip from The Skivvies at the recent Broadway Bares event in New York:
WATCH the video, directed by Augusten Burroughs, for "Hardbody Hoedown" here: