To hear Jack Lemmon’s son talk, you realize the lemon doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Chris Lemmon, the eldest son of legendary actor Jack Lemmon, built his own career in the entertainment industry as an actor and author. But these days, he spends much of his time looking back. Since his father’s death in 2001, the younger Lemmon has been dissecting his life with the on-screen icon on the page and stage. He brings his autobiographical show, “A Twist of Lemmon,” about his relationship with his dad, to the Gallo Center for the Arts for back-to-back shows Saturday, May 13.
Based on his autobiographical novel by the same name from 2008, the show has Lemmon assume the role of his famous father. Through anecdotes, songs, photographs and videos, the story of their father-son relationship unfolds.
Lemmon said the show is singular because of his father’s fame and acclaim, but also universal because of the bond the two men were able to develop.
“This is a story about Jack Lemmon and Chris Lemmon, but it isn’t. It’s a story about father and son, that may be unique, but it also applies to every parent-child relationship across the board,” he said in a phone interview from his Connecticut home.
It was during his book tour he realized the story would work on the stage as well. Lemmon’s father and mother divorced when he was 3 years old. After the breakup, the elder Lemmon remarried and remained focused on his career, releasing some his biggest hits including “Some Like It Hot,” “The Apartment” and “The Odd Couple.” Chris Lemmon said his father reconnected with him when he was 11, and the pair began taking yearly adventure trips that went on for the next two decades.
“It’s a deeply tragic story at its core. It’s a story of father and son who were ripped apart,” Lemmon said. “But in the end, he wasn’t just my father, he was my very best friend.”
Lemmon said his father was a “human leprechaun” whose personality in private was even greater than what people loved from the screen. He calls his portrayal of his dad in the show an “inhabitation, not imitation.” He first opened the show in London a year and a half ago. Since then, he has continued to work on and hone the production.
“That public perception of Jack Lemmon is right on the money. There was never an act or a gimmick. So many performers, and very famous ones, had the gimmicks they do. But Jack is Jack. What you saw is what you got,” he said. “So when you see the performance, it’s Jack.”
In writing the memoir and staging the show, Lemmon said he learned a lot about his father. He touches on how his father was frustrated in being pigeonholed as a comedic actor. He also loved music, Gershwin in particular, and more than a dozen standards plus original songs are included in the production.
Lemmon said the show is meant to be interactive, and the audience is encouraged to sing along and talk back. The evening will include stories about famous family friends like Walter Matthau, James Cagney, Gregory Peck and Marilyn Monroe.
“In the show, Jack says he decided to bring in all friends here and wants to tell his story. And during the course of that, he stumbles across his son,” Lemmon said. “Even though it’s a tragic story, it’s also very, very funny all the way through because that’s what Jack was. And, well, I’m a Lemmon. We do about a half hour on ‘hello.’ ”