The Itch To Perform:
Keeping Marilyn Alive!
By Michael Lavender, Director of External Relations
Photos by Barbara Tillison, Photography Student
To those who don’t know it, Samantha Arrowood has fallen in love. But her beau is not the traditional kind that a single, attractive, young lady would take home to meet mom and dad.
Right now, Samantha’s one true love is stage performance, or impersonating famous ladies, to be more exact. “I’ve fallen in love with the whole dinner theater thing,” she said recently. While other performers dream of going to Hollywood or taking the stage in Vegas, Samantha truly loves working the small stage with a primarily older audience.
Most days, Samantha Arrowood is just your typical college student, working at Peeble’s a few hours a week and hanging out for lunch with friends in the McDowell Tech cafeteria. And all that makes her parents happy. They want her to stay in school.
Although she had job offers to perform in Pigeon Forge recently, she turned down the offers because she couldn’t afford to live in Pigeon Forge and go to school at the same time.
That’s when she and her parents began looking at Maggie Valley. She quickly received an offer from Carolina Nights Theater with an even larger role than she was offered in Pigeon Forge. “And they even let me perform as me,” she said.
In Maggie Valley, she can live at home with her parents, Sam and Angie Arrowood, and commute to work...if you can call it work when you love it as muchas she does.
Her favorite role is in the Elvis and Friends Show, in which she revives the blonde bombshell, Marilyn Monroe and uses her spunky twang to portray the buxom East Tennessee country music singer, Dolly Parton.
To talk with Samantha is like talking to a spirited Energizer Bunny, but without the drum. She is fast-talking and sweet, with a true southern accent and lots of good ‘ole fashioned charm.
And she uses every bit of it to her advantage on stage. Besides impersonating some of the most beautiful women around, Samantha is also quite a looker herself and has been “hit on” by quite a few men, mostly senior citizens, during her performances.
But she always stays in character. “I come up with something Marilyn or Dolly would say, something graceful, that doesn’t embarrass them,” Samantha said. They never do anything physical or vulgar, and her quick retorts focus the conversation back to where it should be.
When she is not on stage, Samantha can often be found pouring tea and mingling with the dinner crowd before a show. For some people, having to double as one of the wait staff is one
of the drawbacks to performing in a small dinner theater, but Arrowood actuallyenjoys the interaction with her fans.
On occasion or two, she has served dinner in her pre-show curlers. That adds a little bit to the show’s milieu. So does having a bass singer who doubles as your chef for the evening.
When you ask her about waiting tables, her background in commercial TV work begins to shine and she does something of an infomercial-on-demand: “We have chicken cordon bleu with cheesy scalloped potatoes, green beans, baked apples, rolls, and a different dessert each night for the dinner show. Tickets are 29.99, including the show...” she said, in her most perky style. It makes your mouth water just listening.
“(Carolina Nights Theater) is like a hidden treasure. Once you get there, you’re like, ‘Oh, I want to come back,’” she hastened to add. For Samantha, it’s not an infomercial - it’s what she believes - it’s what she feels.
In addition to shooting commercials locally for Jim Cook Chevrolet and Alan’s Jewelry and Pawn in Asheville, Samantha works every Tuesday for Charter Channel 10 taping TV shows like “Carolina Cuisine.” She’s also had a role as an extra in a B-list movie on BET television and recently taped a commercial for Frankie Bone’s, a restaurant in the style of the swinging 50’s and 60’s era. And what did she do in that commercial...she portrayed Marilyn Monroe, of course.
Just a year or so ago, Samantha was crowned Miss Western North Carolina 2006 and went on to compete in the Miss North Carolina pageant. But despite having an extensive background in television and pageant work, especially for such a young person - only 20 years old - she says her true love is in the dinner theater.
“I spend a lot on gas (commuting to Maggie Valley), but I can make a living doing it and I’m loving it,” she said.
One has to wonder, though, when she finds time to eat and sleep, besides study for school, since she has yet another theater gig part of the year as a singing and dancing saloon girl in the Ghost Town in the Sky show, also in Maggie Valley. It’s a bit different than her impersonation work, but she enjoys donning her can-can costume and hamming it up with the wild west cowboys singing “Annie, Get Your Gun!”
“I know I don’t give my classes the attention I should, sometimes,” she sighed. With little down time, she also misses out on some of the leisure activities that are popular with other young people, but she doesn’t really miss those things. She doesn’t have much time for dating, although she says she is “single and looking....all inquiries considered.” “Everybody says I’m an old soul in a young body. I don’t like to go to the movies like my friends. I get bored there. I’d prefer a live show hands down,” Samantha explained. “It’s actually cool to be different. I wouldn’t stand out as much if everybody did what I do.”
Not everybody could do what she does. She studies the style and mannerisms of persons she impersonates, including the most recent addition to her repertoire, June Carter Cash, whom she also portrays at Carolina Nights.
She studies the clothing, hair and beauty marks of a young Marilyn and Dolly and tries to create a similar look, along with an imitation of their singing style. Although the Lord has wellblessed her, for example, she still has to use a little padding and a whole-lot-of “big hair” to pull off the Dolly look.
She laughs when she tells about the first time they fitted her for her Dolly costume. Unfortunately, they measured her without her padding and when she tried on the new dress, it wouldn’t fit. “It’s something I don’t find any use for except when I’m playing Dolly. They’re hanging in my dressing room right now,” she grinned.
The point is, she works hard to create the illusion that she really is, or at least could be, the person she is impersonating. “I want people to come see me and have a good time. That’s what it’s all about. I’m in love with theater and I hope other people will be, too.”
It’s a love she hopes will last forever.