Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo: The Real Life Romeo & Juliet

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

The Scarlet Letter Comes Alive at Bay Street

(This article first appeared in the November 16, 2016 issue of The Independent Newspaper)


Whether or not you’ve actually read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, chances are you’ve heard of it. Perhaps it was on a reading list back in grade school that you eagerly passed on after noticing it was originally published in 1850. Or perhaps you’ve come across one of the movies based on the novel, like the famed 1995 version with Demi Moore, Gary Oldman and Robert Duval. If you have yet to experience one of the great American novels, now is your chance.

The Bay Street Theater & Sag Harbor Center for the Arts is holding its eighth year of the Literature Live! program with The Scarlet Letter. Scott Eck and Joe Manutillo bring Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel to life in an original adaption for the East End audience.

The play, set in Puritan Boston, details the life of Hester Prynne, played by Chloe Dirksen, a once married woman who becomes shunned by society after conceiving a daughter from an adulterous affair. The town requires her to wear the scarlet letter “A” across her chest as part of her shame.

Upon Hester’s refusal to reveal the father’s identity, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, played by Michael Raver, she is forced to live a life separate from society. Years later Hester’s missing husband, played by Nick Gregor, returns scorned and seeking the truth, but posing to all those around him as Doctor Roger Chillingworth. All along the young daughter Pearl, played by Dakota Quakenbush, is innocently caught between all the conflict.

Since I had never read the novel, only the Cliff Notes version, and Demi Moore’s rendition had long left my memory, I went into the theater without any expectations or comparative distractions. I was nothing short of amazed. Played with only a handful of actors the story was imaginatively executed. From facial expressions to clarity in their diction, each performer powerfully convinced me I had traveled back in time.

Some performances are worth mentioning such as Chloe Dirksen as Hester Prynne. She was motherly and unpretentious. Dirksen undertook her role, center of the stage, in a Broadway sized way.

I could not imagine anyone better to play young Pearl than Dakota Quakenbush. Her brilliant smile and bubbly energy brought positive light to a dark story.

Kathleen Mary Carthy played Mistress Hibbins, the mentality erratic woman living with her brother, Governor Bellingham, who wanders into the forest at nightfall to see “the Black Man.” It’s a role she takes on with comical precision. The crowd could count on Carthy’s character for relief, and see her cluelessly smiling in the corners of the stage.

Nick Gregor was conniving and clever in a way only his character, Roger Chillingworth, could be. While I’m not quite sure how comfortable he was limping the entire performance, he did a first-rate job.

Lastly, Michael Raver was a charismatic Arthur Dimmesdale. His secrecy of sin is felt throughout the play, each scene leading the audience one step closer to his resolution.

Other cast members include Preston Truman Boyd as Beadle, Carolann DiPirro as Goodwife Doolittle, Luke David Young as Reverend Wilson, Daren Kelly as Governor Bellingham, Jessica Mortellaro as Goodwife Robson. Felix Bird, an East End resident, composed original music for the production. The production team includes Set Designer Gary Hygom, Lighting Designer Mike Millings, Costume Designer Kate D’Arcy, Production Stage Manager John Sullivan and Assistant Stage Manager Michelle Tewksbury.

In a performance not to be missed, the entire cast and crew take small stage dimensions to big stage quality.