He calls her Patricia, she calls him Spyder. As husband and wife, they are known on marquees as Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo, and their love story is as legendary as it is long.
The rockers and recent Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees have been collaborating on music since 1979 when the release of Benatar’s debut album, “In the Heat of the Night,” featuring the seminal, hard-driving hit “Heartbreaker,” rocketed Benatar and her band to superstardom. But when Benatar and Giraldo (a guitarist, songwriter and producer) fell in love, eventually marrying in 1982, their record company feared it would lose control of Benatar and tried to put a stop to the affair.
“They thought for some reason that if I wasn’t with him, I could be easily controlled, and that was a big f— mistake,” laughs Benatar about Chrysalis Records’ attempts to undermine their love. “So people started to call us ‘Romeo and Juliet’ because we had so many people trying to destroy our relationship.”
More than 40 years later, the couple has found unexpected synchronicity with this early phase of their life through a new musical titled “Invincible” that they are collaborating on with writer Bradley Bredeweg. The show, which is staging its world premiere at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts through Dec. 18, channels the music of Benatar and Giraldo in a modern reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet.”
“If you’re going to combine the original rock star, meaning Shakespeare, with the epic rock stars that Pat and Neil are, then why not turn the story upside down?” says Bredeweg, who discovered a narrative arc for the Bard’s epic love story embedded in a CD of Benatar’s greatest hits during a road trip to San Francisco 12 years ago.
A theater buff since childhood, Bredeweg was obsessed with the classics but lamented their homogeneity. He knew he was gay at a very young age and would imagine himself inside Shakespearean stories about white cisgender people. As an adult he felt that exploring “Romeo and Juliet” through a modern rock lens was as an opportunity to shake up the status quo.
When he arrived at his cousin’s Bay Area home, Bredeweg immediately dashed out a first draft of what is now the musical’s book. Filled with diverse characters and LGBTQ plot lines, it took place in a post-apocalyptic 21st century Verona.
In 2015, Bredeweg secured a slot to perform the show at the tiny, now-defunct Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz. The dinner club had established itself as a go-to place for Broadway performers visiting L.A. for pilot season, and Bredeweg was a known quantity thanks to the success of a TV show he co-created, “The Fosters.”
The fledgling musical, originally titled “Love is a Battlefield,” bowed in February and was an immediate hit. It sold out for almost six months straight until Benatar and Giraldo sent Bredeweg a cease-and-desist letter, forcing the show to prematurely close.
Bredeweg had been writing to the rock stars’ manager for months asking them to come to the show, so the legal ultimatum was a bitter pill to swallow. What he didn’t know was that Benatar and Giraldo were in the midst of trying to create a bio-musical and therefore his project and theirs could not co-exist.
Show business, like life, works in mysterious ways, and a series of happy accidents — including an opportunity for the actress who played Juliet at Rockwell to perform a Benatar song for Benatar and Giraldo during an event honoring them at UCLA — led to the pair inviting Bredeweg to fly to New York to discuss helping with their bio-musical.
That’s when all three discovered their mutual reservations about jukebox musicals — something that Benatar and Giraldo wanted to avoid. The conversation soon redoubled to talk of expanding on “Love Is a Battlefield,” which, years later, has morphed into “Invincible.”
Benatar helped craft the story, a crucial role since as one of the few women initially involved in development, she was able to help guide Juliet’s arc. Giraldo focused on the music, making sure that the arrangements were new and fresh, and that they didn’t simply mirror the iconic radio hits. The pair also wrote about five new songs for use in the score.
“I use a lot of percussion and drums, intricate patterns with rhythm. So I wanted to include that in the orchestration,” explained Giraldo in an interview at the Wallis. “So quartets, cello strings, doing polyrhythms and counter rhythms. I try to have that clash. A little bit of dissonance. And make it different than our original versions of songs.”
That dissonance lends itself to the darkness of “Invincible’s” Verona, which Bredeweg imagines as a bit like Berlin, featuring an architectural landscape littered with bombed-out buildings and modern structures.
Director Tiffany Nichole Greene, who is also the resident director for the North American tour of “Hamilton,” says that collaborating with Benatar and Giraldo has been a pleasure and that they have approached the show free from ego.
Greene describes Benatar’s music as “sexy and vulnerable,” “gritty and honest,” and says that the songs serve to expose human vulnerability, a trait undoubtedly shared by Shakespeare’s best work. “So it feels like a good match,” she says.
“Invincible” has been 12 years in the making, but it’s still in its infancy when it comes to its creative journey, which all collaborators hope ends on a Broadway stage. Many people don’t understand how involved that process can be, says Bredeweg.
“They think this is going to be like a fully cooked, fully realized, epic $12-million production,” he says, adding that although it’s not there yet, he feels it’s well on its way with the Wallis production. “This is this is a very exciting step in that process to get to that major production.”
For Benatar and Giraldo, the show represents an important evolution in their long careers — not so much a change in course, but rather an expansion of form. Benatar has always wanted to work on a musical, and all her and Giraldo’s hard work with Bredeweg and his team has really paid off. The show is rich, complex and deep, filled with nuance, character — and great music — she says.
Plus, she laughs, “It’s kind of cool to be collaborating with Shakespeare.”
Where: Wallis Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 18.
Information: 310-746-4000 or thewallis.org
Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission
COVID protocol: Masks are strongly recommended.