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Theater Review (LA): The Pee-wee Herman Show

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Paul Reubens brings his famous character Pee-wee Herman back to his origins as The Pee-wee Herman Show returns to the stage after 30 years. Reubens first began working on Pee-wee back in the 1970s when he was a member of the Los Angeles improv group The Groundlings. In 1980, the show was developed, and it became an HBO special the following year. The 2010 version presents the same basic story while incorporating elements from the award-winning Pee-wee's Playhouse and new material.

Pee-wee, a cross between a young boy and a 1950s children's television host, lives in Puppetland with a cast of characters, both human and puppet, where anything can happen. His great desire is to fly, but when given the chance by Jambi the genie (John Paragon), he instead asks for Miss Yvonne's (Lynne Marie Stewart) wish that Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr) share her feelings come true. However, his sacrifice makes him feel dejected and he runs off, so the Puppetland gang gathers to see what they can do to help.

In its current incarnation, The Pee-wee Herman Show combines the nostalgia of the original stage show with the innocent joy of the TV series. The audience I saw it with was filled with Pee-wee fans, many of whom got into the spirit of the event by screaming every time the secret word ("fun" – AAHH!!) was mentioned and assisting Jambi by reciting his magic words ("Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho").

For fans of the original, actors Paragon, Stewart, and John Moody as Mailman Mike reprise their stage roles and bring the same energy and humor. It's particularly funny watching the bodiless Jambi dealing with his mail-order hands. Also returning are the Ub Iwerks' cartoon "Balloon Land" and the instructional film "Mr. Bungle." 

Changes include switching Miss Yvonne's affections from Captain Carl, played by the late Phil Hartman, to Cowboy Curtis, and the addition of Playhouse residents such as Chairry, Conky the Robot, and Magic Screen. New characters include Sergio (Jesse Garcia) the repairman and the pantomime Bear. All the adult elements have been removed so parents don't have to worry about the puppet Dr. Mondo and Pee-wee hypnotizing a woman from the audience and getting her to undress.

The production design is brilliant. The sets are amazingly colorful and there's something eye-catching everywhere you look. The puppets are lifelike and interact well with the actors and vice versa. Kudos to the puppeteer team. The story's conclusion was created by a good bit of theatre magic.

The Pee-wee Herman Show had originally been planned for November and December at the smaller Henry Fonda Theater, but demand encouraged the move. To make up for the aggravation, those who bought tickets to both venues were treated to Reubens holding a Q&A after the show, in which he sought criticisms to help improve it. He was very sincere in his appreciation to all in attendance, and revealed that the play's return was to prove he had an audience in an effort to seek investors for a movie. While that sounds great, I hope he extends the run and even takes it on the road because this show should be shared with as many people as possible.

The Pee-wee Herman Show runs through Feb. 7 at Club Nokia @ LA Live. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and the Club Nokia box office.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • Josh Hathaway

    I read about him bring the Pee-wee character back to life. I had sort of a love/hate with the whole thing during the initial run. Still, sounds like an interesting show.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    what’s too hate? oh yeah, you don’t do drugs.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    El Bicho,

    Re Comment #2, “what’s too hate?” Unless that reflects an esoteric grammatical usage in reviewing theatrical productions, it should probably be “what’s to hate?” Although I hadn’t recognized the point, I now understand the guiding principle so well stated in your Comment #19 here that

    If you can’t get the easy stuff right, it does undermine the reader’s confidence in the writer’s ability to handle more difficult critical thinking.

    Dan(Miller)

  • Bicho’s Defense

    Butt Dano,

    I can only assume that YOU too (to?) do not do drugs or you would have totally gotten it!

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    if that’s my defense, you better not be sending a bill.