As you drive along Wisconsin Avenue, the Bethesda Theatre rises like a gleaming beacon on an otherwise drab shoreline. Bright white lights illuminate the marquee, and a rocket-shaped tower juts toward the sky with “Bethesda” emblazoned in baby-blue neon. There’s a timeless grace to the design, making the iconic building look simultaneously like a bygone throwback and a futuristic emblem.
Since its 1938 debut as the Boro Theatre, this eye-catching landmark has hosted thousands of Hollywood hits, headliners and stage productions. Now the storied space is entering a new era as Potomac real estate developer Rick Brown and a group of investors (includingBethesda Magazine publisher Steve Hull, who holds a minor stake) transform it into the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, which was set to open at the end of February.
Ticket-holders will see a diverse roster of performers putting on one or two shows seven nights a week. “We’ll have everything from blues to jazz to country to comedy to Motown to salsa to Celtic,” says the 64-year-old Brown. Right now, the venue is looking into booking top-tier acts such as Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, and Branford or Wynton Marsalis, but for March, mostly area performers have been booked.
Ralph Camilli, a former booker and director of operations at Blues Alley in Georgetown, is in charge of bringing talent to the freshly minted space as director of operations. The 63-year-old industry veteran wants guests to feel as if they’ve taken a step back from the 21st century.
“There’s a chance to embrace a bygone era with a historic space like this,” he says. “I’ll be very happy if our first review is: ‘Bethesda Blues & Jazz takes you back to another time.’ ”
Photo courtesy of Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.