It seems so funny to think that these days, Pee-wee Herman, a character made famous by the gifted actor Paul Ruebens, is a household name. Most people know Pee-wee from the wonderfully infamous Saturday morning ‘children’s’ program, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but Pee-wee’s roots are a bit more ‘indie-based.’ Pee-wee’s vehicle for his eventual launch to international superstardom was The Pee-wee Herman Show, a 1981 stage play that became a wildly successful HBO special and thus spawned the entire Pee-wee Herman franchise, including films such as Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and, not long after, Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
In January and February of this year, Ruebens revived The Pee-Wee Herman Show for a successful run at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, and the play has now moved to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on West 43rd Street, where it will make its home until January 2, 2011. The Pee-wee Herman Show officially opens today (November 11th) but Geoffrey and I were fortunate to catch the last night of previews and we had a total blast.
The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway remains extremely faithful to the original script, so if you’ve seen the HBO special, no matter how long ago that was, most of the show will be familiar to you. Pee-wee still consorts with many of the same characters, with just a few new ones added and others retired. Lynne Marie Stewart reprises her role as Miss Yvonne, “the most beautiful woman in Puppetland,” and John Paragon also returns as Jambi, the Genie in a Box. The only significant change in casting, though many probably won’t notice, as the lines of dialogue are identical, is the substitution of Cowboy Curtis (who made his debut on the Saturday morning show) for Captain Karl, originally played by the late Phil Hartman, as Miss Yvonne’s love interest.
Some jokes have also been updated and fresh pop culture references added to bring everything a bit more up to date. For example, in this show Pee-wee struggles with having the Internet installed in the Playhouse for the first time, wears an “Abstinence ring” and makes friends with a talking, flying Sham Wow. Returning characters include Mailman Mike and puppet favorites like Pterri the pterodactyl – who is awesome – Chairy, Clockey the USA wall-map/clock, Randy, Globey and Conkey the Robot. We also get to see the claymation cartoon, “Penny” and the vintage “Mr. Bungle” 1950s educational film about good manners, which is just insane. Geoffrey and I loved every minute of the performance, but my favorite part was at the very end, when Jambi grants Pee-wee’s wish to fly. Seeing Pee-wee, “The luckiest boy in the world,” fly through the air over the stage was hilarious.
It’s also worth noting that the Playhouse set is so vibrant, so colorful, and there is so much to take in visually at all times that when the curtain first rose and the lights hit the stage, I literally could not hold back a squeal.
Tickets for The Pee-wee Herman Show are pricey but worth it. Definitely see it if you can!