A New Play with Music
Written & directed by Hershey Felder
At the Royal George theater, Chicago
Son channels his famous father in nostalgic storytelling
Hershey Felder (George Gershwin Alone, Maestro Bernstein, and recently The Pianist of Willesden Lane) is master storyteller who uses music as the ultimate metaphor as he weaves that engrossing style to keep audiences engaged in his productions. His shows catch fire with audiences and have extended runs here. Chicago loves well crafted one person shows and so do I.
Felder’s latest world premiere, Jack Lemmon Returns, is another gem featuring Chris Lemmon, the son of legendary film star Jack Lemmon ( 1925-2001). Chris channels his father, who he looks likes and sounds like his father. I have long been a fan of Jack Lemmon’s impressive career. In his 60 films, Jack was one of the most beloved actors with whom audiences quickly empathized with. He was able to use a comic presence with a powerful emotionally poignant side as the role dictated. Jjack Lemmon was among the giants of film.
In Felder’s fine script and with the empathetic rendering by the talented Chris Lemmon and the telling projection design by Andrew Wilder, Jack Lemmon Returns plays as a mesmerizing theatrical experience that is underscored by the deft piano work by Chris. Who knew that Jack Lemmon was a jazz inspired pianist who adored Gershwin tunes?
Chris effectively and honestly presents his father’s story with generous use of Gershwin tunes anchored by “Our Love is Here to Stay” which serves as the theme song for the 90 minute show.
We learn about Jack’s life from his early passion for acting,and his obsession for comedy as influenced by Jean-Louis Barrault, the French mime whose 1945 film, “Les Enfants du Paradis” (“Children of Paradise”) became Jack’s acting model. We see how Jack’s dream to be an actor lead him to New York and eventually to Hollywood and the eventual stardom. Chris totally engages us with Jack’s story ripe with personal insights into his relationship with his very human father whose obsession with golf and his struggle with alcoholism strained their relationship.
We understand how Jack broke barriers in Hollywood by defying being pigeonholed as either a comic or a serious actor. Due to the tight script and the use of music, Jack Lemmon Returns emerges as a captivating journey into the life of a film star from the point of view of his son.
We also learn about Jack’s friends and the brother he always wanted in Walter Matthau among other film star anecdotes throughout the show. But the heartfelt father-son stories hit home for me. We also learn about Jack’s struggle with alcoholism. We learn to appreciate both Jack’s life, his personality as well as his son Chris’ sincerity in presented his father’s story. Chris’ talents both on stage and on the keyboard were impressive. My 90 minutes with Jack and his son, known as “Hotshot” affectionately by Jack, was a fine theatrical experience. Get to see this insight into a film legend told with heart by his adoring son.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 14, 2014
For more info checkout the Jack Lemmon Returns page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Royal George Theatre, 1642 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-988-9000