“Jack Lemmon Returns” in his most important role: as a dad

Photo by Rick Friesen IMPRESSIVE TRIBUTE—Chris Lemmon pays tribute to his father, Jack Lemmon.

When you are the son of a famous Hollywood celebrity and bear a striking resemblance to him, your life takes on a structure of its own.  Chris Lemmon, son of Hollywood legend Jack Lemmon, honors the emotional bond that still lives on between father and son in his one-man show “Jack Lemmon Returns,” now onstage at the The Edye Theater at The Broad Stage located at 1310 11th St. in Santa Monica. The show will continue through Feb. 15 with daily performances, except Mondays

Chris Lemmon was born in Los Angeles, son of Jack Lemmon and his first wife, actress Cynthia Stone.  After their divorce when Chris was two years old, he spent a lot of quality time with his father – fishing, golfing, and sharing their mutual love of music. Chris grew up among movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, and Shirley MacLaine – all of whom passed through his father’s Hollywood Hills home.  Chris impersonates each of these famous stars during the show, generating knowing laughs and applause from the audience.

The small, black box Edye Theater is the perfect intimate setting in which Chris, the actor, transforms himself into his father both singing while tinkling the piano keys or sharing humorous tidbits about his career and those who crossed his path.  I had no idea Jack Lemmon was an accomplished pianist and learned many more interesting facts about his life during the 90-minute show.  Chris tells the audience that music was his father’s dream, “but acting was his passion.”  And what a passion it was.

After much accomplishment on the stage, Jack headed to Hollywood to make it in the movies.  His first director, George Cukor, encouraged the stage actor to tone his mannerisms down so that he would appear to give “less” and thus be more natural on screen.

Getting hooked on film and longing for better and meatier roles to show his range, Jack managed to sneak onto the set of a movie being directed by John Ford.  When the most slovenly stagehand started up a conversation with him, how could Jack have known he was actually speaking to Mr. Ford himself?  This led to an on-the-spot spit handshake agreement for Jack to portray Ensign Pulver in “Mr. Roberts,” a role which earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. When he won the Best Actor Academy Award for “Save the Tiger” near the end of his long career, Jack Lemmon became the first actor to win both of those distinguished acting awards.

After the success if his memoir, “A Twist of Lemmon,” Chris Lemmon began experimenting with a performance piece based on the memories shared in his book about his loving relationship with his father. “My father wasn’t just my father.  He was truly my best friend and I miss him very, very much.  This story exists because of that missing of him, and every night I get a chance to have him next to me again onstage.”

Writer-director Hershey Felder, who has had previous success bringing musical-biographical material to the stage (most recently his one-man show “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” at the Geffen Playhouse), helped Chris Lemmon develop what essentially began as onstage storytelling into a full-fledged play with just a piano and a chair onstage with four large screens as set pieces on which many wonderful life story photos are shown to enhance each shared moment.

Told with respect and dignity by his son, “Jack Lemmon Returns” is not to be missed by those who admired the Hollywood legend’s remarkable career shared from the most personal of perspectives. The one-man show certainly captures the magic of a bygone era in Hollywood so loved by many.

Tickets may be ordered by (310) 434-3200 or online at www.thebroadstage.com

“Jack Lemmon Returns” in his most important role: as a dad