Pee-wee Herman, a late 1980s television icon for kids, is making his Broadway debut, where the now mature adults, who were fans of the show, have turned out in force to revisit childhood memories. Even if the evening is little more than a recreation of his original show with the same cast of television characters, played by the actors who created their roles, rest assured Pee-wee does not disappoint.
From the moment the curtain rises, revealing David Korin’s glorious candy colored replica of Pee-wee’s playhouse (based on Gary Panter’s original design), the audience bursts into thunderous applause. And when Pee-wee says “Good morning boys and girls,” the audience responds in unison.
And when Pee-wee says “It’s time for the Pledge Allegiance to the Flag," the entire audience jumps to their feet to repeat the pledge along with Pee-wee. Nothing could be sillier and on Broadway the fit feels oddly out of sync, but the year is 2010 and the audience is having the time of their life. In fact, their gleeful response may be the highlight of the recycled evening of goofy shenanigans.
The script, so to speak, is based on the1981 midnight show that Pee-wee Herman creator Paul Reubens performed as a member of the famed Los Angeles improv group known as the Goundlings. That show went on to become an HBO special that introduced Pee-wee to a national audience and later became a 1985 hit screen comedy,” Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” This new Broadway version has elements from his 1986-1990 television show including all his familiar buddies, Chairry, Globey and Pterri the Pterodactyl, as well as all his human friends, Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), Cowboy Curtis (Phil La Marr), Mailman Mike (John Moody), and the genie-in-a-box, Jambi (John Paragon) is there to grant wishes.
The plot, as such, revolves around a dancing electrician, Sergio (Jesse Garcia), who comes to wire Pee-wee’s Playhouse for cable access to the internet causing a revolt by Pee-wee’s toy friends, who threaten to revolt , if they are replaced by computers. Meanwhile Pee-wee has been granted a single wish and his big dilemma is what to do. Should he use is one wish so Miss Yvonne and Cowboy Curtis can fall in love, or should he use it so he can fly like the birds, which he dreams of doing. Whenever things become a tad slow someone says the secret word for the day, Fun, and the audience roars with delight for an adrenaline rush.
The big question is do you bring the children? Pee-wee’s material walks a fine line between mischievous innuendo, which will probably go right over their heads, and extremely inane juvenile jokes. Whatever you decide, know in advance Pee-wee Herman, the impish man child, has not grown up, and for 90 minutes the audience doesn’t have to either. While reliving Pee-wee’s original 15 minutes of fame, they can be children again and their enthusiastic reaction to his mad antics is the best part of the evening.
The Pee-wee Herman Show is now playing on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 247 West 43rd Street, between Broadway and Sixth Ave. For tickets and more information call 212-239-6200.
Photography by Joan Marcus & Jeff Vespa