By Ron Fassler
If you have never seen the Skivvies (and what are you waiting for?), the recent show at Feinstein’s/54 Below was among their very best. Created by Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina, the two friends and fellow actor-singer-musicians score repeatedly with their joy in performing, their skillfully matched singing voices and their creatively imaginative musical arrangements, which the pair do themselves. When you see the Skivvies, you know you settle in comfortable in the knowledge that you’re going to get a twist on just about everything, which is entirely the point. Aided in a tight set by three guest musical artists (more on them later), their mash-ups of songs from two cult musicals Little Shop of Horrors and Rocky Horror Picture Show was a triumph of talent and presentation (and how great was it that Little Shop composer and all-around icon Alan Menken came out to see and hear what Cearley and Molina produced?).
Just to get it out of the way, the Skivvies perform in their underwear (the band is stripped down to their essentials as well). It’s a gimmick, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the show would be equally as entertaining without it. With that said, it does lend an air of freedom and a breaking of decorum that feels especially welcome. Everyone seems comfortable in their own skin and that it’s not really commented on throughout the evening lends to the feeling that’s all totally natural. With the pandemic only just receding into the rearview mirror, and the need to be out and with people a profound one, it was with great intensity that the Skivvies got down to business last night. There was barely any patter and almost a rush to get to the next number; a combination of enthusiasm and commitment. They WANTED to tell these stories in song! They NEEDED to be in front of an audience! And, oh boy, did this audience respond in kind.
After an opening that was equal parts Little Shop and Rocky Horror (both shows open with a spooky narration, after all), Tamika Sonja Lawrence took the stage as one of three special guests. Her first appearance was an eye-opener (to say the least) and her hijacking of the show was complete after her second appearance later in the evening. Lawrence, a powerhouse performer and veteran of such Broadway shows as Book of Mormon, Matilda, Beautiful, Dear Evan Hansen, Come from Away and the upcoming revival of Caroline, or Change, provided an energy jolt that no amount of Red Bull could match. Her rendition of “Skid Row” mixed with Petula Clark’s 60s favorite “Downtown,” along with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Quiet Uptown” from Hamilton, was perfection in arrangement and performance. Her second spot, a dream medley of songs with “dream” in the title, had everything in it from Beyoncé and Annie Lennox to Dreamgirls and Man of La Mancha. These arrangements were simply to die for (and mention must be made of the first rate band, which included pianist Nate Hopkins, bassist Debbie Djong, drummer Joshua Roberts and all-round one-man band, Andrew Gutauskas who managed a sax, clarinet, slide whistle and probably more, if I was counting).
Juson Williams (of JW’s Inspirational Singers) joined the Skivvies next. A large presence with a full-bodied voice to match, Williams excelled in a medley inspired by Little Shop’s plant-eating Audrey II solo “Feed Me,” paired with tunes listing the virtues of food (possibly only Snoopy’s “Suppertime” was missing from the mix). He was then followed by Diana Huey, dressed only in a towel for the first of her two numbers (her second costume was a French Maid’s outfit that she wiggled her way out of at a strategic point in her song). Huey worked in some Little Mermaid, a total intentional wink to Alan Menken, as she played Ariel in the First National Tour of the Disney Broadway musical incarnation.
But the show does belong (and rightfully so) to Nick and Lauren: the Skivvies. When she lets loose on the fiddle and he digs into a ukulele riff (plugged in electrically), the sky’s the limit. It’s not for nothing that the pair once played Seymour and Audrey at the Bucks Country Playhouse in Pennsylvania, making their teaming on “Suddenly Seymour” far from an exercise in high camp and more of a heartbreaking connection. Nick also excelled in a solo of “Once in a While,” a cut song from Little Shop that he rendered beautifully, accompanied acoustically on his uke.
Among the goodies you find when Googling the Skivvies are such praiseworthy press as “featured in People Magazine’s Hottest Bodies Issue and Sports Illustrated’s Favorite New Band… big voices and crazy harmonies, but no pants.”
So to repeat: what are you waiting for?
The Skivvies were at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 W 54th St., New York, NY 10019 on July 12th (www.54below.com). The Skivvies’ 2020 CD, The Rocky Horror Skivvies Show, is available at Amazon and where all music streams.orHo
Photos by Ron Fassler