Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s star-crossed and doomed lovers whose whirlwind romance reignites the war between their eternally feuding families in Verona, Italy. Over the years, there have been many different iterations of the tale, from the 1968 film starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey to the 1996 modern interpretation (using the classic text) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. This weekend, East Enders will have the opportunity to see a new vision of Romeo and Juliet as part of Bay Street Theater and Guild Hall’s Under the Stars program, The Romeo & Juliet Project, a rock musical featuring the music of real-life music power couple Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, with a book by Bradley Bredeweg and directed by Bay Street Artistic Director Scott Schwartz.
The Romeo & Juliet Project started several years ago, when Giraldo and Benatar were working on a jukebox musical about their own romance. “We decided maybe we should take another approach,” Giraldo says. “There are so many jukebox musicals going on, maybe we should do something different.”
Benatar and Giraldo soon learned about a small production by writer Bradley Bredeweg that combined Romeo and Juliet with their music. “[Bredeweg] didn’t have the rights or anything to do that,” Benatar explains. “It was actually very good and we still had to shut him down! We were working on the same project and we didn’t want the conflict happening. So being the good sport that he is, when we decided to switch gears, we talked about revisiting this project of his, because it really was very good. And we met with him, and he was such a doll. It just turned into the greatest working relationship ever. It’s been a blast. We’re really excited about it.”
The piece incorporates a book by Bredeweg with new versions of some of Benatar and Giraldo’s most beloved songs, like “We Belong,” which Benatar notes features heavily, as well as “Love Is a Battlefield.” Benatar explains, “The narrations are completely orchestrated differently. Some are similar but still orchestrated in more of a musical theater format. It’s pretty interesting how it’s all been.” There are also some new songs written for the show. “It’s not a typical plugging in songs to some story sort of thing,” she says, “which we had no interest in doing. So we took a lot more obscure songs because lyrically they fit—I mean, it’s crazy how they fit. And then so many of these great obscure album cuts that we’ve had just lyrically were perfect for what we were doing. It’s fun. It’s been an adventure for us. And a really amazing artistic stretch, so that has made it really inspiring.”
Benatar and Giraldo, who have been married since 1982, have their own epic real-life romance. “The public doesn’t actually know the true story of how we began and our partnership,” Giraldo says.
“It’s not as easy as it appears,” Benatar adds. “We have tremendous struggles in trying to hold it together. Not from the inside—it’s always from the outside. It’s always some kind of goofball thing, some kind of smartass thing, and it gets inside your house, you know. We have to balance our personal life with our professional life. And I have to say that we are extremely good at this because it is the only way that we know how. It’s not that we’re so astute and know how to navigate it. We’ve been doing it so long and we’re just really committed. The two of us made a pact when we were 20, 25 years old. I was 28. We made a pact that nothing would come between us and we would do our best. And it’s not like they don’t try. Which is why the Romeo and Juliet thing is so…it mirrors our relationship in many ways because every day there is some stupid thing that happens from the outside. And we’re all good on the inside.”