Wilmington bids farewell to its first and only dinner theatre, TheatreNOW, this month. The theater opened its doors in July 2012. Its final theatrical production, “Clue: The Musical,” premiered in July and was a hit with audiences and encore’s Gwenyfar Rohler alike. Folks can catch the show’s final curtain call August 23-24. TheatreNOW’s Super Saturday Fun Time Finale is also set for August 24 at 3 p.m.
Joining them on the schedule for TheatreNOW’s final week is veteran folk singer-songwriter Steve Forbert, who takes the stage August 22 at 7 p.m. Forbert last played TheatreNOW in May 2018. “We had a great time!” he says of the show. “I’ll never forget the young married couple I met in the venue afterward who literally had tattoos of the lyrics to ‘Romeo’s Tune’” (off Forbert’s 1970 album, “Jackrabbit Slim”). He expects this show to be just as special: “I’m grateful to get a chance to play the place one more time before it closes.”
Forbert’s extensive folk-Americana-pop rock catalog stretches back to 1978, and includes almost two-dozen studio albums and countless singles. When he first hit the scene in New York City, busking for change in the mid-’70s, critics thought Forbert to be the “new Dylan.” He tries to paint a complete picture of his career with every live show, Forbert says concertgoers can expect to hear the early hits he’s most known for, including “Alive on Arrival” (1978), “Jackrabbit Slim” (1979), “Little Stevie Orbit” (1980), “Streets of This Town” (1988), and “The American in Me” (1992).
He’ll also play tracks from his well-received tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers, “Any Old Time” (2002), which won a Grammy Award for traditional folk. “[Jimmie Rodgers] was the Father of Country Music,” Forbert says. “I’m from his hometown, Meridian, Mississippi.” Joining Forbert onstage will be Jesse Bardwell, formerly of the Quimby Mountain Band. “Jesse plays acoustic guitar and mandolin. He’ll add another sonic dimension to it all.”
Mostly, though, Forbert says he’ll play songs from his 2018 record, “The Magic Tree.” The album is comprised of previously recorded acoustic demos, changed to include new backing tracks. Those changes are especially felt in the two versions of the title track that bookend the album. Including both versions was a compromise between Forbert and his label, Blue Rose Music. Where “Version 1” feels more polished, “Version 2” (Forbert’s choice) takes a more laid-back approach and evokes the artist to whom Forbert was once compared: Bob Dylan.
The album’s third track, “Carolina Blue Sky Blues,” should hit close to home for North Carolinians. It was written around March 2017 in response the state’s infamous House Bill 2. Forbert says he was struck by a TV interview with a mother of a transgender teenager. “She said, ‘I just feel really bad about all the times I forced him to wear dresses and a ribbon in his hair.’ I was moved by that, so I imagined myself in the place of a transgender person living there and wrote the song.”
“The Magic Tree” accompanies Forbert’s 2018 memoir, “Big City Cat: My Life in Folk-Rock.” Released to commemorate four decades in the music industry, the book is a revelatory look at Forbert’s life and family, as well as his time spent with music legends like Doc Pomus and John Simon. It also explores everything from his instrumental approach to what he’s learned about himself as an artist in more than 40 years.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about flashy licks,” Forbert says. “You rarely hear a song with good lyrics that has terrible music. On the other hand, you’ll often hear a song with flashy music that has lame lyrics.” A prolific songwriter, Forbert says his goal is to make every song he writes one he can be proud of—even if it takes him a little longer than it used to. “As long as I can feel good about singing it for people,” he adds.
In addition to writing new songs, Forbert says he’s been recording a collection of his favorite folk-rock songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The as-yet-untitled album, which includes covers of Elton John’s “Your Song” and Judy Collins’s “Someday Soon,” is slated for next March.
TheatreNOW will close its doors on August 24. Anyone interested in leasing the building at 19 S. 10th St. may call Terry Espy at Momentum Companies, 919-270-1711.