Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Human Interest

Andy and Sammy Arena — the Arena Twins — still doubling up for audiences

The phone rings. • The caller ID says "A Arena." The caller says "This is Andrew Arena." • A minute or two into the ensuing conversation, the caller fesses up. • "This is actually Sammy Arena. My brother's not feeling well today." • It's a technicality, really. There was no deceit intended. The Arena twins' lives are so intertwined that if you want to learn about them or their career, it scarcely matters whether you're talking to Andy or Sammy.

They were born four minutes apart 80 years ago in Ybor City. They live together in the Carrollwood area now — Sammy has been staying in the mother-in-law house behind Andy's home for more than a decade.

And since they were 14, the Arena Twins have been entertaining Tampa audiences at weddings, at festivals and in concert halls.

They will be surrounded by friends and colleagues today at a "Tribute to the Arena Brothers" concert at Centro Asturiano, 1913 N Nebraska Ave.

"We'll have Matt Morgan," Sammy Arena said. "He's an up-and-coming tenor, one of the best in the country. We'll have Paul Salos, who was a finalist on America's Got Talent. And Carme Petrillo, who's coming off 50 years in Las Vegas. He's a singer and an impressionist and a comedian."

Two other members of the Arena clan, Julia Arena Miller and Anthony Arena Jr., a Tampa attorney, will sing one number each. A 10-piece orchestra will back the singers, but the Arena Twins will sing to recorded music. About 800 tickets were sold several days before the show.

It's not a farewell concert, Sammy says, but the Arena twins are slowing down. They're still singing together and they always will, but they're more selective about appearances.

And even if they're not singing together, they'll be living together, as they have been for most of their 80 years.

There's a story they tell about how they're truly inseparable. In 1953, they were both in the Army, both stationed in Texas. The Army was going to ship them out to different assignments. That simply wasn't acceptable.

"We went AWOL," Sammy Arena said. "We were just walking down the road with our duffel bags over our shoulders when we got picked up."

Luckily, they had a bit of celebrity status. They sang regularly on a Texas radio station. A major at the base happened to be a fan.

"He said, 'No problem. Just get in line, and when you get to the front tell him you want to go to the same place.' "

Sammy reached the front of the line first, with Andy right before him. The man at the desk told Sammy he was going to Germany. Sammy said his brother was supposed to go to the same place Sammy went.

"He said, 'Oh, you want to stay together? Korea then,' and stamped the paper," Sammy Arena said.

So they went off to the Korean War together rather than handle peacetime duty in Europe separately. They never regretted the choice.

They came back to Tampa after the war and have been working ever since. After Andy got married, Sammy took some time away from the Arena Twins act and performed in New York City and the Catskills.

But he returned to Tampa and the duo. They perform every year at Festa Italiana in Ybor, they've played sold-out concerts at the Straz Center, and they've made frequent trips to Miami and the Catskills. They can tailor their repertoire of pop standards and familiar ethnic songs to each audience.

"We sing in Spanish, Italian and Yiddish," Sammy Arena said. "And English, yeah, of course."

Marty Clear is a freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at [email protected]

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