Having never seen Paul Reubens as Pee-Wee Herman, the much beloved cult character that he created in 1981 for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse to critical acclaim (22 Emmy Awards; running five years on CBS) I did this past Sunday at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre (there is something ironic about Pee-Wee being coupled with Stephen Sondheim) where he is making a triumphant return in The Pee-Wee Herman Show which is a variation and update on the original – with some of the original members who have not aged as gracefully as Pee-Wee himself. I’ve done my research.
After an absence from the theatrical spotlight due in part to a scandalous incident in a movie house which is referenced to in his present incarnation on stage with his “ring of abstinence” the dead pan Pee-Wee is back. With his trademark uniform: tight grey suit white socks, white shoes and red bow tie.
From the reaction of the audience, a roar of approval from the obviously devoted fans now old enough to bring their grandchildren, to Pee-Wee’s entrance one would think that the Messiah had returned to save all mankind.
I mean, anyone who can get an entire audience of aging children to stand and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance at the top of his show like a flock of sheep being led to the fun-filled circus like proceedings that follow has to have the confidence, the talent and the sharp business acumen to pull it off. And the 58 year old Pee Wee does.
Along with his bag of tricks, vaudevillian type jokes and clever puppets there is Mailman Mike (John Moody), Bear (Drew Powell), Jambi (John Paragon), Sergio (Jesse Garcia), Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr), Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), King of Cartoons (Lance Roberts) and Firefighter (Josh Meyers). All are amusing up to a point. The secret word is “FUN” and every time the word is uttered the audience goes insane. But remember “FUN” spelled backwards is “NUF”. And after a while enough is enough.
The paper thin plot involves wishes. Pee-Wee wants to fly and Miss Yvonne wants Cowboy Curtis to like her. “REALLY” like her. And so it goes, with singing flowers and a large cushiony Chairy and Globie interacting until Pee-Wee does fly. And it is how he flies that is most amazing and worth waiting for. There are some lessons imparted along with some double entendres that grow increasingly less subtle. But all is all, Pee-Wee is lots of fun. There’s that word again. Readers, that’s your cue to scream out in ecstasy.
The production is first class all the way. Scenic design: David Korins, Costumes: Ann Closs-Farley, Puppetry: Basil Twist, Lighting: Jeff Croiter and Make-up Hair and Wig design: Ve Neill make for a total albeit expensive visual treat.
The Pee-Wee Herman Show is directed with breakneck-speed by Alex Timbers. Paul Reubens has created and conceived his comeback (along with Bill Steinkellner, John Paragon & Jay Cotton) where fans looking to regain their youth rejoice and take photos with his overblown images outside the theatre. Not even a Madame Tussaud wax replica. It’s amazing! Nuf said.
www.peewee.com Photo: Joan Marcus