Actor Chris Lemmon is happy to continue to make his father proud while carrying on the family trade of entertainment.
"I grew up in a household where Hollywood greats like James Cagney and Gregory Peck were family friends and Marilyn Monroe was our neighbor," says a beaming Lemmon, who continues to savor every memory, while sharing the best stories and moments with fans of Hollywoood's heyday era.
"For anyone who says, 'But it must have been tough being Jack Lemmon's son,' I say, 'But it was even tougher being Jack Lemmon.' "
Chris now has the chance to walk in his father's famous footsteps, and Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana audiences get to be the first to join him at his side for the journey of a lifetime, in the spotlight and on stage.
Producer Hershey Felder, whose string of stage hit successes "George Gershwin Alone," "Maestro Bernstein" and last season's smash hit "Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane" have been boffo box office anchors at Chicago's Royal George Theatre, is now presenting the World Premiere of Chris Lemmon in "Jack Lemmon Returns." It's a new play with music, with Chris starring as his father sharing his life story in this 90-minute one-man-show.
The production began previews May 2 and opens on Monday, May 12 at The Royal George Theatre, 1641 North Halsted St. The production is written and directed by Felder and based on the true story of the legendary Jack Lemmon, the man from such iconic films as "Mister Roberts," "Some Like it Hot," "Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Odd Couple" and his relationship with his son, actor and musician Chris Lemmon.
"When I first saw Chris last year performing an earlier cabaret show that was his stage story of his relationship with his father, I knew this was something I wanted to bring to audiences, but it had to be presented differently," said Felder.
"Originally, it was Chris telling this story as himself and it wasn't what worked best, because it came off wrong and in the wrong voice. But Chris telling the story as his father works and the result is something very special and very entertaining."
Like the earlier cabaret show, this stage treatment is based on the biography tribute to his father Chris wrote called "A Twist of Lemmon," published in 2006 by Algonquin Books and re-released in 2008 by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.
"This remarkable story told by Chris Lemmon in the voice of his father is performed in the style of musical storytelling that Chicago audiences have come to know from me," said playwright/director Felder.
"Being able to work with Chris to present this piece has been an incredible joy both because of Chris' skills as an actor in the tradition of his father, and as a musician given that music was such an important part of his father's life. Having an insider's view into Hollywood and the craft of one of its prodigal sons makes for an extremely satisfying event."
Chris' mother is actress Cynthia Stone. Father Jack died in 2001 at age 76.
Associate Director Trevor Hay said working with Chris has been a great experience since the actor is always eager to learn and fine tune show moments to assure the best possible punctuation points and impact of the storytelling for the audience.
"There are no wire hangers in this show, yet everything I share is also completely honest, without sugar-coating family history," said Chris, emphasizing that his father's battles with drinking were low-points that Jack Lemmon himself acknowledged in interviews.
"Everyone comes away learning something from seeing this show, and that even includes myself learning plenty of things in the process."
Scenic Design is by Felder and Emma Hay, with Sound Design by Erik Carstensen, Lighting Design by Jason Bieber, Projection Design by Andrew Wilder and Scenic Decoration is by Meghan Maiya with Hay.