The 1980s were defined by a rock-and-roll voice so profound, so powerful, that women today still define love as a battlefield. Lindenhurst [Long Island] native and four-time Grammy Award winner, Pat Benatar’s songs of female empowerment, both tragic and hopeful, have transcended decades. Benatar and her husband and guitarist, Neil Giraldo, aka “Spyder,” have a real-life Romeo and Juliet story, but with a not-so-tragic ending.
Over the summer, together, in conjunction with Guild Hall, Jamie Cesa, and Bel Chiasso Entertainment, they presented a free concert and staged readings of “The Romeo & Juliet Project” at Bay Street Theater’s “Under The Stars” at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor.
The concert, which debuted for the first time, had the crowed all fired up with its modern-day twist on a classic; Old English is outlawed, the Capulet’s grand party is at a warehouse, there’s a budding homosexual romance, the list goes on. Attendees were left enthusiastically wondering, ‘will it end up on Broadway?’.
Prior to the concerts debut, I caught up with Pat Benatar herself.
What was your reaction the first time you came across ‘Romeo & Juliet’?
The first time I read it was in seventh grade and I fell totally, and madly in love. I was a romantic fool. It was perfect. It was everything I loved — the historical fiction, the romance, and the entire life. I was 13. It fit right into my lexicon of the universe at that time.
How did all of this come together?
About four years ago, Spyder and I met with Jamie Cesa, the producer of the show. We met with him with the idea of doing a biographical musical, a jukebox musical. We were working on that for a couple of years, getting our writers and false starts, meanwhile continuing to do performances. In the first two years, Bradley Bredeweg was producing a small version of a musical called “Romeo & Juliet: Love Is A Battlefield.” You obviously can’t have two performances going on at once, so we sent people down in Los Angeles to check it out and they said it was really good. I said, “Oh shit.”
So, we shut the production down. We had to. He didn’t have the rights to the music anyway; it can only go so far. Then he was at a benefit and came up and introduced himself. Then, Spyder and I decided we didn’t want to do another biographical musical. So, we called Bradley. What he had done was so brilliant, it was amazing. The songs that are being played are done in the form they were written in but it wasn’t the form we wanted. Then, we all got together, us, Jamie, and Bradley, and we came up with what we have now. A reimagined story of “Romeo & Juliet,” the original in some places with a detour into things more relevant for right now.
What is the music like in the show?
A hybrid. It’s our music reimagined as a musical theater number. It’s remarkable how the lyric content fits in the story.
Out of all plays to emulate, why ‘Romeo & Juliet’?
Everyone has always called us the Romeo and Juliet of rock and roll because they’ve thrown everything at us on Earth — trying to split us up, all of this horrible stuff that people do — and we’ve managed to survive it. It has relevance for us. We’ve been married for 37 years and have been together for 40. You know, I’d love to say that this has been a picnic, but it has not.
How did you and Neil Giraldo meet?
I signed to Chrysalis Records and the company put together a group of studio musicians. We were putting things together and doing demos with wonderful studio musicians. It just wasn’t raunchy enough. It wasn’t rock enough. I mean, it sounded beautiful, but it wasn’t what I meant. I met with Mike Chapman a few times and I told him what I was trying to do, so he said he had a guy. So, Spyder came down the day I was doing auditions for the other band members and just came so we’d meet. He was already too accomplished to audition. He came in with everybody else. I didn’t know he was there. Someone told me Neil Giraldo was there, but I didn’t turn back.
Then, I heard someone behind me say, “Hey, man, can I borrow your axe?” And I thought, oh my gosh, he didn’t even bring his guitar? I was ready to turn around and skewer him. Then I saw him and that was the end of that. My brain literally shut down, the rest of my body lit up on fire. I tried to compose myself, like “What the hell are you doing?” I was madly in love with him. I composed myself, shook his hand, and he got on stage to play the most unbelievable guitar chord I have ever heard. I wouldn’t have worked with him if he hadn’t been the right guy, the right guitar player, but he was exactly what I was looking for.
Was the first song about you two?
“Promises In The Dark.” We were dying to be together. I was still married; he was in a relationship. So, we were not together. We made that whole record with all of that emotional, physical tension going on. We were trying to figure out how to start the relationship, because they don’t make it. We were crazy about each other but didn’t want to blow the career. It was a hard to decision to make. We took it really slowly, and the first song we actually wrote about the relationship was “Promises In The Dark.” It’s our signature thing.
How does this rock ‘n’ roll journey differ from others?
We’ve had a really amazing life. It hasn’t been perfect, there have been lots of struggles, but we came out on the other side. We have two daughters, two grandchildren. We’re so grateful. To be able to circle all the way around, go back to my Long Island roots, and be able to start this whole other adventure, where music that has been so critical and important to your life is now being put into another format. It’s amazing. I’ve never heard the songs sung by anyone but me. To hear them all singing these words that we wrote, we played, that have never been sung by another person, is spectacular.
This article first appeared in The Independent Newspaper on August 13, 2019, prior to the concerts debut. Read more about #EverythingEastEnd here