Actor Jack Lemmon, who died in 2001 at age 76, was clearly a complicated man.
No one, with the exception of his two wives and daughters, is more of an expert of the Hollywood legend's habits, traits, eccentricities, insecurities, career and character, than his son Chris Lemmon.
Producer Hershey Felder has teamed with Chris to present the World Premiere of "Jack Lemmon Returns," now playing an open run at The Royal George Theatre in Chicago and starring Chris as his father for this one-man show.
The production is written and directed by Felder and based on the true story of the legendary Jack Lemmon, the star of Hollywood iconic films like "Mister Roberts," "Some Like it Hot," "Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Odd Couple."
Chris, who turns 60 next month, captures his father in perfect detail, while sharing some tinkling piano keys and offering stories about his family and his relationship with his father, who had the lifelong dream of being an actor in New York as soon as he left his hometown of Newton, Mass.
In fact, this 90-minute, no intermission show, might even be just a little too-perfect for the portrayal of Jack. When I interviewed Chris last month, during a break in his rehearsals, he told me right away that "there will be no wire hangers in this story," of course, a reference to the mostly unflattering 1978 published biography of actress Joan Crawford, written by her adopted daughter Christina. This isn't to say I was expecting gossip and dirt or any attempt to tarnish an image. However, a few more dips and hills might have offered a better balance to explain the ups and downs of this father and son relationship.
True, because it's Chris adopting the identity of his father for the performance, it can be tricky to convey all sides of the Hollywood icon and manage to keep the show flowing at 90 minutes.
What IS revealed is Jack's earliest start in the biz, after urging from a show-biz minded mother to counter his serious business-minded father. Besides being the first actor to win Academy Awards as both Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor, the show explores his tight friendship with Walter Matthau, who preceded him in death. While no mention is made of Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, President John Kennedy and director George Cukor get considerable time. (I've been hearing radio commercials for this show that have Chris also promising stories about Jimmy Stewart and Tallulah Bankhead, but I didn't hear any such tales at the opening night performance.)
For Jack Lemmon fans, this show is a feast and fun-filled trip down memory lane. For anyone who hails the classic days of early Hollywood, there's also plenty of anecdotes to absorb, from references to Harold Lloyd to quotes from Mae West. For everyone else, this is a ticket worth the price to spend time with Chris Lemmon, who is still making his famous dad very proud.
Performances of Chris Lemmon in "Jack Lemmon Returns" are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $55. FYI: (312) 988-9000 or theroyalgeorgetheatre.com.