By Book Writer Bradley Bredeweg
I’m a child of the 80’s, so Pat and Neil’s music was always around me — in my house, car rides to school, and in every mall I stepped foot in. I guess you can say their music was very much the soundtrack of my early life. Growing up, they became my go-to anthem music when things got hard during my high school years. Growing up gay in the late 80s and early 90s was quite the journey, and Pat gave me the strength to keep going when times got difficult. In those moments, I’d turn on “We Belong,” and I’d somehow manage to find the strength I needed to keep going. Later in my journey as I started writing, I’d put on their music while sitting at the computer. I also have to say there’s always just been this cosmic connection to Pat and Neil’s music — it’s almost as if I always knew somehow, some way we’d all eventually work together. I believe in destiny, I suppose.
The initial idea for the show came to me about eleven years ago. I love the classics, and I read them as much as possible. It had been years since I read Romeo and Juliet and so I picked it up one day, gave it a quick read, and then hopped into my car for a road trip up north for a visit with my cousin. I decided to pop in Pat and Neil’s BEST OF album. As I’m listening, I started to realize that there are about twelve or thirteen songs — if you line them up in a certain order — that perfectly tell the story of Romeo and Juliet. While I’m driving, I’m making notes about which song goes to which story beat. That night, I sat in bed, obsessing over the idea, and I started a first draft of the book. But I wanted to completely take the story of what we thought we knew about Romeo and Juliet and turn it all upside down. Mostly because as a young gay kid growing up loving the classics, the classics always felt very distant because there weren’t any stories — love stories in particular — that genuinely reflected my own feelings and experience. I secretly wished the classics would somehow transform and speak to a wider demographic of people and readers — not just white, straight, cis readers. Pat and Neil were rule breakers from the very beginning of their careers – they broke all of the traditional rules and carved their own path in the music business! So if I was going to dare take a classic, do it my way, incorporate more diverse stories, more diverse characters and break all of the rules of storytelling — who better to partner with than Pat and Neil? After all, their music is iconic, anthemic, and mind-blowingly groundbreaking. At the time, they weren’t my partners yet, but their music was the inspiration that gave me permission to just go for it.
Years later, I walked into a bar in Los Feliz that used to put on small shows and cabarets, walked up to one of the producers at the time, and convinced them to let me do the very first production. After two weeks of rehearsal, we put up the show. It sold out and became a little bit of a sensation. In fact, it ran for six months — no small feat in Los Angeles. The show created such word-of-mouth that Pat and Neil eventually heard about us. I was incredibly proud of the show and was desperately trying to get them to come see it so I was emailing their manager, inviting them to be our guests. Little did I know at the time, Pat and Neil were developing another show using their music with hopes of going to Broadway. Eventually their manager came to see our show and a few weeks later, we received a cease and desist letter that forced us to shut down. About a year and a half later, I got a call from producer Jamie Cesa inviting me to go to the East coast to meet with Pat and Neil. I immediately jumped at the opportunity. They apologized for the cease and desist but said that the show was so good, they had to shut it down. We laughed and laughed, because at the time it had been quite painful, but it eventually brought us all together! Come to find out later that Pat and Neil were once called the Romeo and Juliet of the music world. So many within the industry didn’t want them to be together, so they were also star-crossed lovers of their time, dodging music execs and managers that tried to tear them apart. After hours of chatting and days of following up, we finally agreed to work together and figure out a way to blend all of our fantastic ideas into one bigger, badder, bolder version of the show. I have to say, we all work so damn well together. Pat is incredibly hands on and has been from the very beginning. She and I have been joined at the hip since our first meeting. Neil is a musical genius — everything he touches turns to gold! He’s such a rule breaker and a disruptor. What he and Pat are doing with the music in this show to pay tribute to some of your favorite hits while modernizing the vibe and storytelling (along with our musical director, Jesse Vargas) — is quite profound and mesmerizing! We then did several readings. The first actually took place at The Wallis. Associate Artistic Director, Coy Middlebrook, gave us the first opportunity to hear the book and lyrics out loud once we all became partners. That led to a big outdoor concert in the Hamptons with the Bay Street Theatre in 2019 where we performed a semi-staged concert of the musical for the first time in front of thousands of people. Those performances in the Hamptons are where everything started to really shift for us. We were trying some really interesting new things with the book and music, and the audiences really responded to our very modern take of Verona where the patriarchs on each side died from a very long civil war, both families are now run by the matriarchs, Paris is Chancellor of Verona, and the Montagues are barely hanging on by a thread. Not to mention, we have several LGBTQ+ characters taking on storylines once dominated by more traditional archetypes. The great response in the Hamptons gave us the energy we needed to keep developing during the pandemic. We’d hoped to do a workshop in New York in 2020 but COVID shut that down. All of this led us to do a showcase of the show in Los Angeles at the Bourbon Room in the fall of 2021. Tremendously helpful feedback from that experience then led us back to The Wallis. So now, here we are a few years later, about to World Premiere the show in the Bram Goldsmith Theater. The Wallis is at the forefront of shifting LA culture by creating a healthy and inclusive environment that helps artists — LA artists in particular — bring their best work to an incredible space. There aren’t very many opportunities in our city to mount a full-blown world premiere of a new musical, and thanks the incredible staff of The Wallis we finally get to debut INVINCIBLE in a city that Pat and Neil and I call home. If you told the ten-year-old me that this was going to be his reality one day he never would’ve believed you.