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Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo on Invincible’s Timeless and Queer Story

Author: Tracy E. Gilchrist

A timeless clarion call for justice, Pat Benatar first wailed, “We can’t afford to be innocent; Stand up and face the enemy; It’s a do-or-die situation; We will be invincible,” the theme song to The Legend of Billie Jean, nearly 40 years ago. Now, the song “Invincible” is also the title of a modern musical retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set to the music of Pat Benatar and her music and life partner Neil Giraldo that excavates the fallout of warring factions. But unlike Shakespeare’s lovelorn tragedy, Invincible, with a multiracial cast and queer characters, is ultimately a story of hope. 

“You have two families that don’t get along two families that have different ways of how they live…and the power struggle between the two.,” Giraldo tells The Advocate about the musical he and Benatar mounted at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif with a book from The Fosters and Good Trouble cocreator Bradley Bredeweg. 

“It makes a lot of sense to today and all the political problems we have. If there’s a word that we’re trying to give you with the story, it’s hope,” he adds. “We definitely need that.” 

“The beauty of Shakespeare is that the stories are timely and timeless. You can plug them into any era, and there’s always some way that they work,” Benatar says. Everyone knows the story. The only thing that’s happening now is that it has a contemporary twist to it so that it follows along with what is happening in the world right now. The interesting part is that the theme of it is still the same — that people are still trying to control one side [and others] are trying to control the other side.” 

Invincible rehearsals

ny Nichole Greene and the cast of InvincibleA rock legend who burst on the scene in 1979 with “Heartbreaker,” Benatar (with producer, arranger, and guitarist Giraldo) continued to churn out hits including “Shadows of the Night,” “Love Is a Battlefield,” and “We Belong” throughout the 1980s. Many of the hits and a few deep cuts are woven into the musical Invincible, a project the 2022 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame say they were intimately involved with on set each day with the director Tiffany Nichole Greene and musical director Jesse Vargas. 

As Shakespeare’s story of love, at first sight, is woven into the fabric of storytelling for centuries, Benatar and Giraldo’s music functions at practically a cellular level for those who grew up on it. It’s a near impossibility to not burst into song with Romeo (Khamary Rose) and Juliet (Kay Sibal) as they belt their nuptials to a reimagining of “Shadows of the Night” on a spare, dystopian set built around scaffolding that serves as the famous balcony. 

The musical duo who joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with other ’80s heavy hitters like Duran Duran and Eurythmics late this year say they’ve long considered turning selections from their canon into a musical. When they learned that Bredeweg had set Romeo and Juliet to their music, they were intrigued and checked it out. Benatar says a standout of Bredeweg’s show was a moving version of their 2003 song “Brave.” Benatar calls it an “emotionally close song for us.”  But there was a caveat if they were going to get on board with a full-blown production. 

Pat Benatar and Bradley Bredeweg

“If we were going to do this, then we wanted to have the songs re-orchestrated, reimagined into magical pieces, which is what we did,” Benatar says. “That’s why it’s fabulous. It’s all the things that everybody wanted combined into one thing.” 

“I didn’t want people to hear the songs exactly how they were from the records because that was a moment in time. I’m happy that moment existed, but I’m also happy to reinvent and rebirth some of the songs and make them different. That was exciting for me,” Giraldo adds. “I wanted to orchestrate them in a way that had a heaviness, a depth of even more rhythm, having a string a section…and create a whole different type of feel for the story, because it’s a dark story. The music had to apply itself to that type of field.”

No stranger to adapting pop culture into musicals, Bredeweg directed an acclaimed musical version of Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Angeles in 2019. Bredeweg’s Scissorhands featured contemporary music like A Star Is Born’s “Shallow” and easily leaned into Edward’s identity in the film as othered, making them queer and nonbinary. While Invincible doesn’t make a meal of its inherent queerness, the show features several queer pairings and nonbinary actor Ari Notartomasso as the fiery Benvolio. 

“Our show wanted to challenge the audience’s expectations of what they thought they knew about their very traditional story by surrounding the infamous star-crossed lovers with characters from all different backgrounds, genders, sexualities, and opposing religious/political beliefs,” Bredeweg says. “One can say our Verona very much reflects so much of what our country is currently experiencing as older generations and their more traditional beliefs collide with a new wave of forward-thinking progressive generations.”

The Advocate’s full interview with Pat Benetar and Neil Giraldo

Unlike U.S. politics where there are currently more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed throughout the country, in the rarified world of Invincible, race, gender, and sexual identity are not the issue. A desire for power and control prevails, as the character Paris (Brennin Hunt) embodies. 

“The interesting thing in this production, is we have explored and gone into depth with gender fluidity and things like that. That’s great because that’s not where the conflict is in Verona,” Benatar says. “It’s just this interesting mix of taking all the things that happened in the last four years, and with COVID. The great thing about art always is that you have a choice. You can be in the moment and take everything that’s happening to you and incorporate it into what you’re doing if it is pure and true, you know, not fabricated. That’s what happened here. It just naturally just evolved into what it is. And it’s beautiful.” 

Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Tracy E. Gilchrist

My name is David but my online nick almost everywhere is Altabear. I'm a web developer, graphic artist and outspoken human rights (and by extension, mens rights) advocate. Married to my gorgeous husband for 12 years, together for 25 and living with our partner of 4 years, in beautiful Edmonton, Canada.

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