It’s a few days after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony when we find Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo holed up in the green room of a Beverly Hills performing arts center, talking about how their big night went across town. “Eight minutes and 30 seconds!” exclaims Giraldo, talking about the exact length their performance had to come in at. “They busted our balls: ‘You can’t have 8:38; you have to have 8:30.’ So we had to make a little medley, and Patricia said, ‘How are we gonna ever remember (the alterations), when we’ve been doing these songs for 35 years?’ We’re old now — we just want it to be automatic,” he confesses.
Ironically, though, the newly inducted husband-and-wife duo have a project underway that comes out of not wanting to hear the same songs the same way. One floor up at the Wallis Center, a team of about 30 actors is at work rehearsing “Invincible — The Musical,” a new stage production that’s been put together around a song score by Benatar and Giraldo, mostly taken from a recorded catalog that established them right out of the gate in 1979, along with several newly written pieces.
The stage musical is having its official premiere Friday night at the Wallis’ Bram Goldsmith Theatre in Beverly Hills, after a week of previews. (The limited engagement runs through Dec. 18; ticket information can be found here.) It is not a jukebox musical, they say — starting with the fact that they picked some deep album cuts and B-sides as well as hits, then made the sound truly theatrical. “I’ve heard those records we did enough,” Giraldo says. “I was excited about doing the orchestration because I wanted to have polyrhythms of polyrhythms and string sections doing a lot of the hard stuff. Originally I wanted to take it really far away, but other people said, ‘No, you gotta bring it in a little closer,’ so we do have some guitar going on.”
“Invincible” is a reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet,” but unlike, say, the nearest recent equivalent as far as catalog-based Broadway musicals go, the Go-Gos-based “Head Over Heels,” which was set in medieval times, this show is being played mostly for dark drama, not laughs. Benatar and Giraldo say a discography that includes high-drama numbers like “Hell Is for Children” is well-suited for Shakespearian tragedy.
So no “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” then? “We have one chorus of that that comes in the middle of another song, only as an homage to everyone who’s gonna go crazy if we don’t have it,” says Benatar, “but it’s literally in there for like 10 seconds.” (She made headlines last year for taking it out of her own concerts because she couldn’t sing a light-hearted song with even metaphorical “shots” without thinking of parents mourning school shootings.)
Benatar and Giraldo spent a good amount of time developing a completely different musical, an autobiographical one that would have focused on the first few years of their professional and personal partnership, in the late ’70s and early ’80s. But, the singer says, “At this stage of our lives, you’ve had so much of you, you’re so over it. I started to feel like the genre was becoming passe, and the gold standard had already been reached with ‘Jersey Boys.’”
Meanwhile, they learned that a writer-producer named Bradley Bredeweg had mounted a “Romeo and Juliet” adaptation using their songs in a tiny L.A. theater, unauthorized. A cease-and-desist order was sent, but there was one problem: Associates who went to check out the show told them it was actually good. Forces were joined, and after six years of further development, this extensively tweaked version is premiering under the direction of Tiffany Nichole Green (who’s helmed the touring version of “Hamilton”).
If they had produced a version about their own lives, what would’ve been the story arc? Well… Shakespearian, too, minus the tragedy.
“Going up against the record company as a duo, that’s when the Romeo and Juliet thing started,” Benatar recalls, “because they thought we were great until we hooked up romantically (after making her debut album). Then they were not happy, because they thought it would be down the Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham road and ruin this whole thing that they had going on, or worse, which is that the two of us would be so powerful together that they wouldn’t be able to control us individually, which is what happened. That’s when they went nuts and tried every possible way to split us apart.”
Forty-three years later, this Capulet and Montague bypassed the poison and have lived to received rock’s highest honor, together. Their enduring love story is “not without its challenges,” says Benatar, “and it’s not like there aren’t days where I want to choke him. I’m sure he wants to kill me most days. But we made a pact and stuck to it, and we’re a family, and still crazy about each other.”
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