Written by Caballero Oscuro
It’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by since the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse TV series ceased production, and nearly 30 years since Pee-Wee Herman’s stage debut, and these unavoidable facts are even harder to believe when witnessing the new live The Pee-Wee Herman Show currently playing in Los Angeles. The seemingly ageless Paul Reubens has finally returned to his most famous role, and in dusting off his Pee-Wee character he has also recreated the colorful, puppet-filled environment of the TV show in gasp-inducing detail. It’s as if someone sealed the TV show in a time capsule and finally decided to pop the cap this month to rediscover its fondly remembered treasures. That’s not to say it’s all kitsch and reminiscence, as Reubens includes a few nods to modern times and a sly dig at his most notorious moment, but for the most part the new show is a direct continuance of the TV show and the original stage show.
The show opens with Reubens emerging solo from side stage before the curtain goes up, giving the audience a chance to register that yes, it really is him and yes, he can still fully pull off the character. Then the curtain rises, unveiling the resplendent Playhouse in all of its glory. The jaggy padded door! Chairry! Globey! Conky the Robot! Mr. Window! The gang is all here, with plenty more visitors dropping by as the show progresses. Reubens has reassembled key human players from the original show: Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), Mailman Mike (John Moody), and Jambi the Genie (John Paragon), and they all admirably keep up with Pee-Wee’s youthful exuberance. Cowboy Curtis has been recast with Phil LaMarr, doing a fine job filling Laurence Fishburne’s large boots. As for new arrivals, there’s a handyman named Sergio, a firefighter, and a seemingly mute bear who acts as a foil for Pee-Wee through most of the show, dropping in to annoy him from time to time. There’s even a word of the day, eliciting the expected fanatical response from the crowd whenever it’s uttered throughout the show.
Viewers looking for a strong story came to the wrong show, but the two nominal plotlines involve Pee-Wee’s wish that he could fly and a budding romance between Miss Yvonne and Cowboy Curtis. The story is really just an excuse to continue the guest visits to the Playhouse, and therein lies a slight weakness to the final product. Where the TV show excelled in its half-hour format, providing just enough time to visit all the characters and revel in Pee-Wee’s humor without wearing out its welcome, the stage show’s nearly 90-minute running time makes it seem like an overly long episode. While it’s thrilling to see the old characters make their initial appearance on stage, by the time they pop back around for their second, third, and more visits it starts to get a bit tiring. Still, there’s enough variety and continual humor that it’s difficult to find any real fault with the show’s structure. Mostly, it’s just great to see Reubens back in the gray suit, and it’s hopefully the start of Pee-Wee’s long-overdue return to glory.
The Pee-Wee Herman Show is currently playing at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles through February 7th, 2010. For ticket availability, visit Ticketmaster or the Club Nokia box office.