Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley were having modest success with their act of original songs mixed with mashups and stripped-down arrangements of pop songs. So the natural next step seemed to be stripping down themselves. Or at least, that's how it seemed to them.
And that's how they became The Skivvies.
"The taking off our clothes thing was totally a gimmick, but it worked," Mr. Cearley says.
Performing their act in their underwear and posting it on YouTube led to gigs at New York venues such as Joe's Pub and was the next step in the evolution of attracting an audience. Then guests from Broadway and other stages who were attractions while clothed were recruited to be Skivvies, too. Mr. Cearley and Ms. Molina tailor arrangements to each of their guests. So shows may change from night to night, as they will with different artists featured in each of the four performances at City Theatre starting Thursday.
"It's totally a social science experiment, I call it, because everyone is like, 'You guys are so talented, you don't need to take your clothes off.' And I was like, 'Well, I think we actually did.' No one paid attention for 10 years and all of a sudden, as soon as we did, everyone paid attention," said Mr. Cearley
As the Wall Street Journal sees the duo, "While indeed young and precocious, both performers are equally smart, with a sophisticated and genuine appreciation of all music genres that allows them to pull something off so rather ingenious."
Nick Adams and Alison Fraser, who were just in Pittsburgh with the touring company of "Wicked" as Fiyero and Madame Morrible, respectively, and "The Book of Mormon's" Rory O'Malley are among the performers who have been guests in varying stages of undress. Mr. O'Malley, for instance, wore a long graphic T-shirt that showed the body of a woman in a bikini.
"As far as what they wear, typically it's a surprise to us. ... We get a lot of creative people who say, 'I have just the thing.' Like, we had [singer-songwriter-actress] Sophie B. Hawkins, and she was like, 'I'm going to surprise you,' which is cool, because I like to be surprised." Mr. Cearley described her outfit as underwear with a sheer robe worn over it. "Very sexy," he said.
Four women from Pittsburgh Public Theater's "Company" -- Nancy Anderson, Courtney Balan, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Hannah Shankman -- will be guests at the 10:30 finale Saturday night. Pittsburgher Michael Campayno, who recently played Rolf in NBC's "The Sound of Music Live!," is coming in from New York to take part in all four performances.
Mr. Campayno hadn't decided what he might wear when he spoke by phone last week, but that's the least of what The Skivvies are about, he says.
"It's so much more than just being in your underwear. They are so talented. It's a very artistic, innovative performance and something I am honored to be a part of."
The Skivvies team met when they were traveling the country in a children's show based on Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories." They clicked as collaborators and started writing their own "silly songs" together.
"We started doing concerts with our clothes on," Mr. Cearley says. "We didn't call ourselves anything then. We were Lauren and Nick, doing our own thing, originals and covers." It was about 2012 when the social experiment began.
"We like to push the envelope, and we like to create things ourselves," he says of The Skivvies' creative process.
The first arrangement ever created for a guest is one being done by Mr. Campayno. The "Call Me" arrangement includes Blondie's "Call Me," "Spiderwebs" by No Doubt, "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen and "Call Your Girlfriend" by Robyn.
"That was the one that Michael said, 'I have to sing that song.' ... If there were a greatest hits album, that would be our first track," Mr. Cearley says.
The Skivvies have fans among several members of City Theatre's staff, and the offer came to bring their act here in October. But another gig came along at the same time -- both were cast in the Bucks County Playhouse production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" -- and City and The Skivvies rescheduled for this week.
Among their local fans and friends is Post-Gazette Performer of the Year and a "Company" star, Daina Michelle Griffith, who this time around had to cancel a reunion with Mr. Cearley.
"She was my first girlfriend when we were growing up in Cincinnati. She took me to my first concert -- Fiona Apple -- when I couldn't even drive," he says. They had planned a Fiona Apple medley, but the timing this time didn't work out.
Speaking of working out ...
The answer to "What does it take to stay in shape when your job includes stripping down?" comes in two parts. He points out that both have been vegetarians for nearly 20 years, Mr. Cearley since he was 14, and Ms. Molina since age 16.
The next part makes the male half of The Skivvies laugh.
"What's hilarious, if you ask Lauren, she will try her hardest to tell you all the activities she does, but she's never set foot inside of a gym," he says. "She says she goes to yoga, but she's gone like twice this year. Her mom's a dancer and she's got good genes, and she carries a cello on her back in her travels, and I think that helps. I love this question when she's around to answer it, but, no, she doesn't do anything. I live in the gym, five or six days a week."
The Skivvies have performed with artists on the West Coast and will perform in New Hope, Pa., between upcoming gigs at 54 Below in New York. They have a home at the cabaret venue because, they've been told, The Skivvies' audience members are big tippers.
Asked about the future, Mr. Cearley says that he hasn't had to find a day job for a while.
"If you had asked me five years ago what my survival job is going to be, I never would have said, 'This.' It's nice that I get to create every day. Lauren and I meet every day to create something. So I'm totally happy."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.