Backstage Pass: Model Victoria Henley unearths some hidden gems in the Smokies


The Smokies have quickly built a solid reputation as one of the top family vacation destinations in the United States, with an impressive array of entertainment venues, theme parks, arcades, and enough eateries to satisfy even the most adventurous foodies.

Pigeon Forge is quickly becoming known and celebrated for a brand-new line up of exciting entertainment options, sure to delight the whole family.

Here are some of the Smoky Mountain’s best hidden gems, and a few recurring fan favorites mixed in as well.



Featuring a rotating line up of three “Laugh Until you Die “ shows, a delicious and hearty three course meal (easily one of the best dinner theater meals in town), a stellar line up of players and an intimate setting, ensuring that every single seat is “The best seat in the house,” the Great Smoky Mountain Murder Mystery Dinner Theater offers a rambunctious good time you won’t soon forget.

As a longtime fan of this wildly funny show, I can attest to the fact that this is a show you must return to, as I have seen “The Moonshine Murders” and “Who Shot the Sheriff” easily dozens of times. Each performance varies greatly from the next with golden improvised moments from the highly skilled cast to hilarious interactive audience bits. (The stick to your ribs food is definitely worth returning for as well.)

Our December 2021 Smoky Mountain visit marked our first time taking in the immensely popular show, “Marriage Can be Murder,” which follows the colorful Mike and Lisa preparing for their wedding day– but nothing seems to be going according to plan. The in-laws loathe one another, the blushing bride-to-be may or may not have a bun in the oven (which may or may not be the groom’s), the wedding planner has an attitude bigger than the Smokies and the minister has gone missing in action.

Complete chaos ensues when bodies start hitting the floor, leaving audience members scratching their heads and scribbling away on their clue packets to figure out “Whodunnit,” “Howdunnit,” and “Whydunnit.”

One of the theater’s funniest and most envelope pushing shows (and arguably one of the funniest live shows you could hope to experience) “Marriage Can Be Murder” entertains with double entendre-laden dialog, wickedly sharp one-liners, and a top-notch cast that is sure to have you in stitches just minutes into the show.

The cast, comprised of Jamie, Emily, Olivia and Adrian, each pack serious punch with their respective characters, many of them effortlessly portraying numerous roles throughout the show. Jamie shines as a dramatic wedding planner with a short fuse, Emily steals the show as the “Hillbilly Diva” bride-to-be, Olivia portrays both the acerbic mother-in-law and happy-go-lucky aunt with a comedic flair reminiscent of Carol Burnett and Adrian brings lot of laughs as the hapless good ol’ boy Mike.

Upon entry into the theater, you’ll have the opportunity to take a souvenir photo against a themed backdrop, which you can later purchase to take all the laugh out loud memories home with you to recall your visit. A friendly staff member will escort you to your table, and a personal clue packet will await you at your table setting, where you’ll be given the opportunity to solve from an array of challenging crossword puzzles, riddles and word games in attempt to deduce who committed a crime most hideous. Cast members make rounds to pick up clue packets while dessert is being served, giving all the super sleuth attendees ample time to arrive at their conclusions. Should you correctly solve “Whodunnit” “Howdunnit,” and “Whydunnit,” you’ll receive the opportunity to pick from an exciting line up of prizes including rides on Pigeon Forge Snow, miniature golf rounds, horse and carriage outings, as well as several other enticing prizes.

And if you just couldn’t seem to solve those clues? Not to worry. You can write down your silliest and most implausible theories to get a special shout out from cast members at the end of the show for the entire audience to hear.

Just as delightful as the show, the three-course meal is scrumptious, kicking off with unlimited beverages (varieties of sodas, sweet and unsweet tea and coffee), soup (your choice of potato or broccoli), a main entree of tender fried chicken breast, savory pulled pork, fresh green beans, creamy mashed potatoes and a soft dinner roll. A rich, delicious cheesecake (with your choice of chocolate, caramel, or fruit coulis drizzle) is served for dessert.

Edgy, irreverent, and some of the most fun you’ll ever have at a dinner show…the reasons to visit “Marriage Can be Murder” are many. (However, we encourage you to book your tickets early as shows sell out very quickly in advance.)

Note: This show has been rated PG-13 for mild language and some thematic elements.


PHONE NUMBER: (866) 624-7185


Starring Tik Tok superstar, Rachael Wilson, best known by her moniker, “Freckled Zelda,” “Freckled Zelda’s Mythical Magical World” is a brand-new fairytale themed musical, magic extravaganza at the newly re-branded, Parkway Playhouse.

Since our previous visit to the show in August 2021, the show has taken on a whole new format, with added covers of some of the top hits throughout the decades, a brand new cast member, even more edge-of-your-seat grand scale illusions and, of course, recurring favorites including the resident real life unicorn we have all grown to know and love.

The show centers around Melanie Marvel, the newest cast member, a strong-willed young lady who finds herself far from home, who experiences life altering encounters with the villainous Obsidian, the adventuresome sprite, Dante,’ and our titular protagonist, Freckled Zelda, who entertains and amazes with her stellar vocal and musical skill.

Wilson’s vocal quality is a perfect blend of a jazzy, smoky, soulful sound, paired with a Karen Carpenter-esque smoothness that brings a certain effortless ease to every scene in which she appears.

Guests of this one-of-a-kind theatrical production can also expect to witness Zelda playing the ocarina, a vessel flute wind instrument (dating back to 19th century Italy) with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece which projects from the body. Although an immensely talented vocalist and magician, her ocarina skills are ultimately the determining factor of her viral Tik Tok success and accumulation of over 5 million followers (or, as she lovingly refers to them, “Strawberries”).

Standout moments in the show include a jaw-dropping vanishing act by Melanie Marvel, a death-defying audience participation bit by resident antagonist, Obsidian, a real-life unicorn that appears before your very eyes and an unbelievable illusion featuring Freckled Zelda flying high above the ground as she performs, “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables” on a grand piano.


PHONE NUMBER: (865) 365-1204


Owned and operated by multi-talented magician and entrepreneur, Steven Best, The Steven Best Smoky Mountain Theater is home to two world class shows, brought to life by a variety of talented performers, all under one roof.



Direct from Las Vegas, Best, a seasoned consummate showman, brings to the stage a beautifully curated variety-style magic show, complete with classic sleight of hand, mind blowing mentalism and even an adorable live rabbit named David Hopperfield.

The intimate show space allows each audience member an up-close and personal vantage point of some of the most unbelievable illusions you could ever hope to witness in a live show.

Best, assisted by his lovely wife Melinda, establishes a warm, personal connection with his audience, which is often packed to the brim with magic lovers of all ages, while perfectly executing tricks and illusions without missing a beat throughout his action-packed show.

Just one the many standout moments in the show include Best selecting random members from the audience and predicting personal things (such as dream vacation destinations), then drawing said predictions from a locked box, which has been on display throughout the entire performance.

Other memorable bits include a “floating table” that magically soars highly above the ground, an edge-of-your-seat vanishing act, a bit involving a snowstorm that magically appears from a small paper star and multi-colored sands that shape shift into liquid and solid form and change colors in real time.

Best pays a touching tribute to his mother during a portion of the show, where he tells of how his single mother worked several jobs during his childhood and made many sacrifices to provide him with weekly magic lessons to support his aspirations of a career in his chosen field.

The inspirational tone and positive energy throughout the show is palpable, and magic enthusiasts in attendance are given the opportunity to meet Steven following the show for photo ops and exclusive insights on a day in the life of a professional magician.

Visit Steven Best’s “Unbelievable Magic Show” for incredible grand illusions packed in a fun , intimate setting.


Featuring a rotating line up of highly skilled tribute artists portraying a bevy of A-List stars, including Buddy Holly, Kenny Rogers, Connie Francis, Frankie Valli, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Donny and Marie, Tom Jones and Elvis, “Elvis and the Superstars” is more than merely a tribute show, but a celebration of the lives and hits of some of the music industry’s greatest hit makers who shaped the industry as we know it today.

During our visit (at which the theater was festively decorated for Christmas and many holiday themed hits were played and sung), the featured icons included Josh Turner (portrayed by Justin Terry), Kenny Rogers (played by Mark Hines) and “The King” himself (Tim Hendry). They each inhabited the icons they portrayed, not only in physical appearance, but also in movement and sound.

Justin Terry brought to life some of Josh Turner’s greatest hits, including “Your Man,” “Long Black Train” and “Hometown Girl” and more, as he sailed through each tune with a deep, smooth vocal quality that perfectly matched Turner. Mark Hines, the only Kenny Rogers tribute artist endorsed and approved by Rogers himself, brings to the stage over 40 years of experience, during which he has traveled across the US and has been featured on many international platforms, including the Las Vegas-based “Legends in Concert.” Hines also shares with the audience heartwarming stories and anecdotes about his close personal friendship with Kenny Rogers.

Hendry, a world class Elvis impersonator hailing from Canada, brings boundless charm, humor and wit (not to mention killer vocals and legendary dance moves) that would surely make the namesake of his headlining role proud.

Audience members are given the opportunity to interact with the stars of the show at various portions throughout and are also allowed the opportunity to “rub elbows” and take some unforgettable social media photo ops on the red carpet following the performance.

Each visit to “Elvis and Friends” offers the opportunity to see a different tribute artist and hear a whole new roster of hits. Be sure to call the box office prior to your visit to see who will be taking the stage next.


PHONE NUMBER: (865) 856-1117


One of the most exciting new dining destinations in the Smokies, Don Marcos Kitchen features a fresh, modern take on Italian cuisine with an American flare, as well as a mouthwatering line up of fusion style dishes and an extensive selection of traditional and New Mexican options. The restaurant’s design aesthetic is sleek, clean, spacious, and perfectly suited for any type of personal or corporate outing or special occasion. The staff was exceedingly hospitable and knowledgeable about the large menu, and the expansive and unique array of beverage and food options are enough to wildly impress even the most discerning of food critics.

Only using the freshest ingredients and featuring made from scratch authentic Italian breads, hearty sauces and carefully crafted cocktails, it is no wonder why Don Marcos is quickly and steadily gaining momentum as one of the top places to dine in the Smoky Mountains.

Don Marcos offers a delightfully upscale aesthetic, but don’t expect to pay top prices for top quality as Don Marcos offers lunch specials (at the time of this article) as low as $7.99.

While selecting only a few items from the overwhelmingly vast menu seemed to be an insurmountable feat, we finally arrived at the decision to try these selections, which blew us away with exceptional quality and flavor.


Lynn, our resident connoisseur of the southern classic highly recommends the sweet tea as a non-alcoholic beverage option.

Sangria, a delightful Spanish classic, featuring red wine, fresh fruit juice, and a blissful variety of spices

Bahama Mamma, a vacation in a glass. A frothy, frozen concoction made of coconut rum, orange and pineapple juice and grenadine.

Margarita: You’ll be hard pressed to find a better traditional margarita in the Smoky Mountains. Beautifully blended tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice.)


Sampler: A hearty platter of freshly cut chicken tenders, fried mushrooms, fried pickles, chips with flavorful salsa and creamy cheese dip. You may substitute out for any appetizer on the list except wings or calamari.

Calamari: Lightly breaded and fried calamari with marinara sauce. A coastal classic, crispy fried to absolute perfection.


Potato soup: Finding soup, especially a quality soup with fresh, well blended ingredients, at any given eatery can be quite a challenge; but if you are looking for a sumptuous, satisfying and flavorful soup option, this creamy potato soup is the only way to go.


NOTE: Each entree is accompanied by endless garlic knots, which are smooth, doughy, completely made in house, and cooked to perfection as well as a house salad, featuring a fresh spring mix, olives, beets, and a variety of house made dressings.

Marsala: Your choice of chicken breast or grilled pork chop (we choose chicken) with mushrooms sautéed in Marsala wine, all tossed with house-made authentic Italian pasta.

Specialty Pizzas: Choose from Don Marcos’ stellar line up of hand-made pizzas, sure to satisfy the entire family. A bottomless house salad can be added for just $4.50 .

Veggie: A fantastic combination of mushrooms, onions, peppers, fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic, all coming together to create a one-of-a-kind artisan pizza.

Chimichangas: We sampled both the chicken and shrimp options of this Mexican classic, which, along with the house margarita, was the special of the day. This fusion classic was wrapped in a savory thick dough, packed with rich melty cheeses, lean meat, and was bursting with a variety of flavorful spices.

Beautiful ambiance, exquisite food and beverages and friendly customer service are all just a few of the many reasons Don Marcos should definitely have a spot on your “Must Try” list on any Smoky Mountain vacation.


PHONE NUMBER: (865) 505-3544


One of the most exciting and innovative mountain coasters of its kind, the team at Rocky Top Mountain Coaster sets themselves apart from the competition by producing a variety of themed events to correlate with seasonal holidays (such as the immensely popular, Ghosts ‘N Goblins Halloween extravaganza, which I covered for Backstage Pass during the fall), and just as you might expect, this visionary company pulled out all the stops for a high speed Christmas celebration.

The longest coaster in east Tennessee, The Rocky Top Mountain Coaster features over nine minutes of pulse- pounding thrills, twists, turns, tunnels, and lots of exciting surprises along the way. Laugh at the clever tongue in cheek “Burma Shave” advertisements and “Euro-Pee-In Bears” (who wave hello to you as they relieve themselves from a rustic cabin porch) as you wind your way through the breathtaking Smoky Mountain terrain.

Brace yourself for the camera stations, ready to snap your photo as you dash down the hills at warp speed and be sure to take home pictures of your special mountain coaster memory, which are available in the gift following your ride.

The Rocky Top Mountain Coaster is a high thrill experience you and your family can enjoy all season long.


PHONE NUMBER: (865) 453-0033

Victoria Henley produces Backstage Pass for FCB/iHeart Radio and