It’s easy to understand why solo performer Chris Lemmon wants to pay homage to his famous father Jack. Celebrity aside, the parent-child bond is a powerful one. Watching and listening to Jack Lemmon Returns at the Broad Stage, I could almost feel the presence of my own irreplaceable dad, who passed from this material world half my lifetime ago.
Although the show — written and directed by Hershey Felder and based on Chris Lemmon’s memoir A Twist of Lemmon — purportedly focuses on father and son, a lot of it is a straightforward recounting of Jack Lemmon’s career, with Lemmon adopting his father's signature mannerisms in a first person narrative that begins with Jack’s early grade school performances and streams forward to his death in 2001.
The impersonation takes place in a high-ceilinged venue, with an elegant piano center stage and a parade of images from the family album and from Jack's career projected onto the wall. Lemmon the son, a musician and composer, punctuates his tale with melancholy songs. The setup is designed to stir us to tears — a manipulation so unabashed that it works against itself from the start.
The concentrated awareness of having our strings plucked is the production’s overriding problem, but it’s not the only one. Although Lemmon’s mimicry is on the mark, it remains just that. Our sense of the man he’s so adeptly imitating never attains depth. Hovering around the borders of his father’s story, we never get more than a generic impression of who Chris Lemmon is either.
Transitions — from Chris Lemmon as Jack to Chris Lemmon as Chris, let’s say — are not as clear as they could be. And re-plays of the highlights of Jack Lemmon’s career, including that delectable bit of dialogue at the end of Some Like It Hot between Lemmon and Joe E. Brown, lose their punch when Chris resurrects them by playing both parts.
The Edye at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica; through Feb. 1. (310) 434-3200, thebroadstage.com.
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