When a bounding adult bear nearly stomped on her foot, Bethany Owen did what comes naturally after many years in show business: she improvised.
"I was walking down a trail by Camp Richardson and it crossed the path in front of me like a bolt of lightning," said Owen, who during her daily visit to the lake elected to change course and take an alternate route back to her car.
Owen has improvised for 17 months on the stage of the Golden Cabaret in the Horizon Casino Resort. Her comedic skills are clever jabs between dead-on impressions of the singers she tributes. The woman with "1,001 voices" since Mother's Day 2010 starred in "One Voice," perfectly replicating tunes note for note by artists such as Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday and Cher. She even sewed the outfits she wears to look just like the originals.
There have been other productions in the Golden Cabaret as well, including the family-friendly "Christmas Country Style," which on Tuesday, Dec. 27, ends Owen's extended run at the venue.
After a recent show, Owen was dressed as, and looked like, June Carter Cash. But when she talked about leaving Tahoe, her eyes revealed herself as Bethany Owen, and she fought back tears.
"It is bittersweet because the lake is the most beautiful in the whole world that I've ever seen," she said. "Not having that view that I go to see every day is something I'm really gonna miss, and of course all the people. Everybody has been so kind and generous to us. It's been a long run, and I'm really grateful for the run, but it's sad to leave."
That's show business.
Owen and her husband and producer, Jim Whirlow, return to their house in Huntington Beach early next month, where they will take a break before moving on to another location. Maybe Laughlin, Nev., Branson, Mo., or some other tourist-destination city.
During the extended Tahoe engagement, Whirlow steadily added lights, amps and various stage accouterments to the showroom, driving items up from Southern California in an SUV. Transporting them back is another story.
"Just the Dolly (Parton) boobs alone, we need a U-Haul," Owen laughed.
The façades of an old West town were designed by Whirlow on a computer and created in Los Angeles. Don't brush up against the cardboard, Alan Dryman warned, or the bank, the saloon and Lilly's Hotel will all come crashing down.
Dryman is the star of "Christmas Country Style." He opens with holiday-themed songs by Willie Nelson, Charlie Pride, Merle Haggard and Ray Price before Owen appears as Parton, Reba McEntire and - how's this for a change? - Bethany Owen. The show ends with Dryman portraying Johnny Cash and Owen as June Carter Cash.
Owen and Dryman have shared stages at various shows all over the country, and Whirlow said it's appropriate they are together this final week.
"It's a good way to go out, with friends and family," he said.
Golden Cabaret maître d' Robert Maloon, Whirlow discovered early on, is a deft dancer. After showing people to their seats this last year and a half during the production of "One Voice," Maloon would transform into Fred Astaire and join Owen as Judy Garland on the stage for "A Couple of Swells."
Maloon this week plays the "Toy Soldier" made famous by Arthur Duncan on "The Lawrence Welk Show." His nimble knees look like rubber as he furiously tap dances and springs into the air with a bell kick.
"I've been here four and a half years and I've never seen a prettier designed set," said Maloon, who will remain employed at the showroom as the doorman for the next regular act. "Illusion Fusion," a nightly magic show starring Alex Ramon, starts Jan. 11.
In addition to "One Voice" and the Christmas show, Whirlow produced events featuring comedy, the nuevo flamenco duo Martin and Vargas, a hypnotist, two Elvis tributes, salsa dance lessons and puppet shows in both the showroom and the Horizon's arcade. He also opened a martini bar with a jazz pianist, started a wine tasting night and sponsored "Capt. Tom Conley's Blues Show" on KTHO Radio, 4-6 p.m. Saturdays.
"It's hard to leave because of all the relationships you build," said Whirlow, who said the Tahoe show is the longest run for "One Voice" since it began in 2001. "It's always, I've got to start all over again."
However, Owen's voice - a recording of it anyway - is expected to return to Tahoe on casino floors. Owen portrays Audrey Hepburn on IGT's new slot machine, "Breakfast at Tiffany's." The Hepburn family approved Owen's impressions, and the machines have already debuted in Las Vegas.
"She is the best woman impressionist I have ever seen," Dryman said. "To go from Dolly Parton to Marilyn Monroe, that's a pretty good jump."
The feeling is mutual.
"Alan is the most talented voice artist that I've ever worked with," Owen said. "His own natural speaking voice is so beautiful, so resonant and rich. It's rare in your career that you can find somebody you are compatible with who has been basically given the same gift."
"Christmas Country Style" will be presented at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 22, through Tuesday, Dec. 27. Children 12 and younger are free to attend.
Dryman, who looks and sounds so much like "the man in black" that people stop him in stores and restaurants, said he doesn't mind the traveling part of show business.
"I prefer to do the show and 'git,' " he said. "Set it up and tear it down. But when you make a lot of friends, it's tough. With Bethany, she made this her home for 18 months."
Owen may be moving away but she will always be remembered as a Tahoean, a title that comes with making lifelong friendships and having a face-to-face encounter with a galloping bear.