Being a Broadway power couple doesn’t always mean juggling red-carpet events or getting cast opposite each other in the next Hamilton. Sometimes, as Lauren Molina and her partner Rob Morrison know all too well, it means tag teaming a box of Schmackary’s cookies while looking for the next gig. As singers, actors and multi-instrumentalists, they’ve had their share of ups, like in 2015 when they starred alongside each other in the pre-Broadway lab of the new musical Nerds, and downs. Earlier this year, Molina did not get the offer to join the Broadway cast of Nerds, while Morrison secured his role as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, only to be disappointed weeks later when the production was suddenly cancelled in a heartbreaking turn of events.
Yet, they continue on together. Molina is currently in Chicago starring as the man-magnet Eileen in Wonderful Town at the Goodman Theatre, while Morrison is at home in New York playing with his folk-rock band the Hollows, working on his role as Doodle the dog for the new Nickelodeon cartoon Sunny Day and Instagramming photos of his and Molina’s two cats. They aren’t in the same city for this interview, but it doesn’t stop them from constantly making each other laugh and riffing off each other’s jokes from afar. That is the true definition of a showbiz power couple.
How did you two meet?
Lauren Molina: We met right at the end of [my run] in Rock of Ages in 2010. It’s a pretty funny story. I was walking to my matinee, and I heard, “Lauren.” I turn around, and it’s Rob, and he’s like, “I just wanted to say, ‘Hi my name is Rob Morrison and I’m in Avenue Q.’”
Rob Morrison: I had never met Lauren. I had been doing some online dating—some OkCupid kind of stuff—and I kept going on these dates where I wasn’t really feeling it. Then I saw Lauren three times in one week around the Theatre District, and I said, “Okay next time I see that girl I’m going to say something to her.” I had seen her in Sweeney Todd, which was actually the first Broadway show that I’d ever seen, and at a couple of theatre events like Gypsy of the Year, but I had never said anything to her, so finally I was like, “Hey I’ve seen you around; I saw you in Sweeney Todd, and you were awesome.” I also complimented her hair. Lauren has awesome curly hair, and I thought that was so cool. It was a very brief, friendly conversation, and then we both went to our respective matinees…
LM: It was a really sweet little moment on a street corner. Then, that night he Facebook friended me. I had been in a long-distance relationship for about two years, but I was newly single, and I was ready to meet someone who was in my city—even though I was about to go do Candide for a few months [at the Goodman in Chicago]. I accepted the request, and then I got a text from my friend, [talent agent] Jeremy Leiner. His husband was in Avenue Q with Rob [at New World Stages]. He asked if he could play Yente and set me up with Rob. I was like, “That cute ginger I met on the street the other day? Sure!” Then I went back to Facebook and started going through all of Rob’s pictures and posts. I could see that he was a hippie and played a whole bunch of instruments just like me, so I reached out and started talking to him about music. We hung out pretty soon after that.
RM: We basically hung out every day for almost a month. Then she left. I ended up visiting her a couple of times in Chicago, and it just took off in a way that no other relationship I’ve ever been in has before. I think we both just knew that it felt right.
LM: Being in Chicago again right now is kind of like a throwback to the beginning of our relationship and the honeymoon phase.
Rob, you were recently back in Chicago for the opening night of Wonderful Town. What did you like in particular about Lauren’s performance as the irresistible sister Eileen?
RM: So many things. Lauren is a consummate vocalist, but when she sang “A Little Bit in Love,” it had a quality that I hadn’t really ever heard from her before. The way it came out had a beautiful sonorous quality that I thought was excellent. I was so proud to hear her living in that vocal range and sounding so awesome.
It’s so cool that you can still be surprised by Lauren’s talent after six years.
LM: I still feel that way when I watch Rob perform, too. I know he can sing super high, and I know that he’s funny, but he was in this show called Nevermore at New World Stages last year, and all of the sudden he was doing this crazy modern dance. I was in the audience just dying with my jaw dropped. [I couldn’t believe that he] had all of this dance in him that he’d never showed me or told me about before. It was crazy.
RM: I didn’t know I had it in me myself. It just came out. When she’s out of town I just spend all of this time working on a new skill to surprise her with. Breakdancing is going to be my new one.
LM: Oh good. Are you auditioning for Hamilton?
RM: I mean I was a shoe-in anyway, but…
Speaking of auditioning, Rob you recently posted a fake script called Rob, Heat Exhaustion and the Great Acting Drought of 2016, on Instagram. It was so funny.
RM: That was definitely specific to theatre people. It’s that whole convention of [actors using the hashtag] #firstdayofschool and taking a photo of their script or posting about signing their first Broadway contract. There’s been a big influx of [those kind of posts] on my Facebook and Instagram feeds lately, and [since I’m] not in that privileged position, I felt like I needed to do my own spin on it.
Ideally you would have still been starring in the Broadway production of Nerds at this time, Rob? How did you guys make it through that disappointment?
LM: It was a doozy. The history of Nerds is pretty epic between us. I actually did a couple of readings of it, and then when it had its first revamped production in North Carolina, Rob booked the part of Paul Allen, and I lost the part. Then they did a pre-Broadway lab, and I auditioned again and got the part back. That was Rob and I’s first real time working on a show together. It was so much fun. The show is fabulous and funny and smart and irreverent and quirky. [After that] there was all of this talk about it going to Broadway, and I was like, “Amazing! Will everyone from the lab get Broadway offers?” Then there was drama, drama, drama, drama, and the director reached out to me and said she didn’t know which direction they were going to go. Rob and a few other people got their offers, and I got replaced by Lindsay Mendez. My feelings were hurt. I felt sad and angry, but super excited for Rob. It was going to be his debut. It was a weird feeling at first, but I got over it, and I was super, super excited.
RM: And just in time for her to get over it, the show got the axe—two weeks before we started tech. It had been a rollercoaster over the years in general, especially the Broadway production with Lauren not getting cast and me feeling weird about being in the show without her, but then to suddenly not have the show move forward—that was not something anyone was expecting. They were loading all the lights into the Longacre Theatre on the same day that we were getting the news from the producer.
LM: It sucked.
RM: Of all the experiences that I’ve ever had in theatre, that was definitely the worst. I don’t think I’ve really recovered. I don’t have that hopeful glow about making it that I used to—not that I don’t want to be an actor anymore, but it sort of pulled the rug out from under me.
Lauren, what did you say to help him through that huge blow? Did you just feed him a lot of drinks?
LM: There was a lot of alcohol consumed, and for two months straight we just ate comfort foods. We ate Schmackary’s cookies like it was our job. I think we kept them in business. I was supportive eating with him.
RM: Lauren was very supportive. I think she knew I wasn’t looking for soundbites like, “It’s going to get better,” or something like that. I just really needed somebody to hear me be upset and super angry and sad about it. Lauren got that.
Did it also make you really want to find something else to perform in together?
LM: You hear that casting directors? It’s a constant rollercoaster being in a relationship with someone else in the business. There are so many ups and downs and frustrations. Thank God we’re not a gay couple. I think of when my friend Wesley Taylor was with Matt Doyle and they would go in for the same parts. I don’t know how they did it.
You do get to perform together sometimes when Rob guests with the Skivvies, the “undie-rock” band Lauren formed with Nick Cearley. Rob, how did you feel about your girlfriend performing in her underwear?
LM: He invented the name “The Skivvies.”
RM: Lauren and Nick were trying to figure out what to call themselves, and I just thought of the word Skivvies when they were talking about their underwear. I never felt uncomfortable about it. The way that the Skivvies use their scantily-clad selves is not necessarily in a sexy way. Yes, they’re on stage, and they are sexy, but it’s not like a burlesque show. I always accepted it as what the Skivvies is. It’s just part of the gig.