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Cause Celebre Presents "Joan's Show", Starring Joan Copeland, at the Acorn Theatre
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Cause Celebre Presents "Joan's Show", Starring Joan Copeland, at the Acorn Theatre

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Cause Célèbre

Joan’s Show
(Cause Célèbre Website)

Starring Joan Copeland
(Copeland Bio)
With Dennis Buck on Piano
(Buck Website)

Directed by Joel Vig
Public Relations: Springer Associates PR

Acorn Theatre
Theatre Row
(Theatre Row Website)
410 West 42nd Street

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 18, 2011 Matinee

Joan Copeland is a lively, elegant octogenarian actress, singer, raconteur, who appeared in two shows at the Acorn theater this month, and I caught the second this afternoon. It’s unusual to go to a Thursday afternoon show, and the theatre was quite filled with fans, friends, and theatrical aficionados. Ms. Copeland was joined onstage by a charismatic pianist, Dennis Buck, who made the Steinway sing, accompanying Ms. Copeland in a few songs, and even taking a small speaking role, when she related stories of theatrical days gone by. Cause Célèbre produced this event, so it was natural that Ms. Copeland take advantage of the same set structure that’s used for The Pretty Trap, a Tennessee Williams short play now in performances. Ms. Copeland changed the photos to her own from yesteryear and added the poster of this show, showing her in a Hirschfeld sketch from her 1977 Broadway run in Pal Joey, for which she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. Of course she added the Steinway baby grand, but she kept the Williams play’s iconic lace curtains and dried bridal bouquet, encased in bubble glass. Other stage effects were a real bouquet of deep pink roses and Joan’s full-length mink.

Mr. Buck opened the show with a musical medley from Joan’s roles, including Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”. Ms. Copeland later reprised part of that tune, among many more, like “I Love a Piano”, and a snippet of “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. After singing the opening bars to the latter, she raised her arms and said, “That’s a Crock”. Her intent was inherent in the spoken themes of her dialogue, that show business is very hard work and the road to success is paved in surprising obstacles. One of those obstacles, as she told us, was her brother, Arthur Miller’s, being blacklisted in the 1950’s. His refusal to “name names” led to Ms. Copeland being refused roles in Hollywood and television, a difficult period in her career. But, as she related these tales, she always ended the comments on a positive point or a tuneful phrase. The playwright Arthur Miller figured prominently in Ms. Copeland’s life, and stories about their childhood in Flatbush and Brooklyn, along with her second brother, Kermit, were quite entertaining. It was Kermit who kept the men in Joan’s life on guard, and it was Arthur, who gave Joan contacts and lucky breaks.

Ms. Copeland began her studies at American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then summer stock, and soon found herself among the first 26 actors to study at the new Actors Studio, at its formation in 1947. After absorbing the Stanislavski method, Ms. Copeland was almost forced to leave, but that moment was another short-lived obstacle, because this woman is a survivor with spunk! She dropped names of fellow students at the Studio, like Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Kim Hunter, and Cloris Leachman. A moment later she’s on a story about Ismail Merchant, as well as David Merrick. But it was her brother, Arthur, who had the offstage central role in this show. Ms. Copeland re-enacted her Drama Desk Award-winning role in Miller’s 1981 play, The American Clock, taking her own turn at the Steinway, and slamming it shut at the end of the scene. Miller had designed this role to represent their mother, but from his experience, not Joan’s. Of course, Marilyn Monroe, Miller’s wife, for a time, then sister-in-law to Joan, figured in today’s show as well. Ms. Copeland had only lovely comments to make, with regards to the blond bombshell, and Joan was even present for the infamous birthday song to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden.

In 1970 Ms. Copeland appeared on Broadway in Two by Two, starring Danny Kaye. Today she sang “An Old Man”, from that show, quite poignantly, as she still has professional clarity and tone. Another show mentioned was Coco, in which Ms. Copeland was understudy for Kathryn Hepburn. Ms. Copeland’s onstage transformation today, into Ms. Hepburn, was remarkable. Later acting roles were through daytime television, and, long after Ms. Copeland had left one soap opera, she returned as her previous role’s identical twin. One of the final anecdotes in today’s show was about Noël Coward, for whom she auditioned, early in her career, in London, French accent and all, on the heels of a serious auto accident. For us, she sang one of the lead songs in that show, Conversation Piece, “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart”, in her finest French inflection. Kudos to Joan Copeland!

Joan Copeland at the Curtain
of "Joan's Show"
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Dennis Buck at the Steinway
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Joan Copeland at the Reception
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Dennis Buck at the Reception
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at