What is it like to be Jack Lemmon’s son? Chris Lemmon first wrote a response to this question in his memoir A Twist of Lemmon in 2006, before he had the idea to develop a one-man show based on his book as a tribute to his late father. First shown in the U.S., the production has gone through various development stages before making its West End performance.
The stage of the intimate studio space is bare except for a piano and a projection screen featuring images of some of Jack Lemmon’s most famous films such as Mr. Roberts, Some Like It Hot, Irma La Douce, and The Apartment as well as photos of his childhood and family. The show begins with the famous roar of the MGM lion before clips from some of Jack Lemmon’s films flash across the screen.
Chris Lemmon talks only briefly about himself before he changes into his father, delivering the story through Jack Lemmon’s perspective. Recalling the birth of his son Jack regretfully admits that Chris looked like a lemon but the doctors managed to bend his head into shape. This brings back memories of Jack Lemmon’s own birth and of his rather eccentric mother, who loved gambling, and his father who owned a doughnut factory. As Jack made his way into the acting profession after finishing a degree at university and spending some time with the navy, he was greatly influenced by the French actor Jean-Louis Barrault of Les Enfants de Paradis who represented what Jack Lemmon was striving for in a performance: “It should put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye.”
Bearing a striking resemblance to his father, Chris Lemmon has also got his mannerisms and nervous energy down to a T. Woven together with Lemmon’s original piano arrangements, including some of his father’s favourites and standards from classic Hollywood, the production provides a rare glimpse of Jack Lemmon: the artist and the private man. The show describes the glamourous life of Jack and his son in Hollywood partying with James Cagney, Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck, sneaking into neighbour Marilyn Monroe’s garden to find a presidential guest, but also focuses on the deep bond Jack and his “little Hot Shot” shared when they played the piano together or went fishing in Alaska.
Although the show is a tribute, Chris Lemmon also discusses his father’s flaws—Jack’s complete dedication to his acting career whilst neglecting his wife and son, which led to a divorce soon after he won his first Oscar, his tempestuous second marriage with Felicia Farr, leading to temporary estrangement from his son, and his long battle with alcoholism.
Chris Lemmon is a gifted actor and musician, he holds a degree in classical piano and composition as well as the theatrical arts, with a career spanning 30 years. He has a great rapport with the audience and his performance adheres to Jack Lemmon’s mantra as it is funny and touching in equal measure
“If I’ve learned anything in my life,” Chris Lemmon says (as himself) nearing the end of the show, “it’s that there’s no easy way to follow greatness — but in honouring, it’ll live on.”
I highly recommend this show to everyone who has an interest in Jack Lemmon.
Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin
Twist of Lemmon is playing at St. James Studio until 18th June
There will be a post-show Q&A with Chris Lemmon on Thursday 2, 9 and 16 June free to all ticket holders who have attended Twist of Lemmon that night.