The Pee-Wee Herman Show
Written by Paul Reubens and Bill Steinkellner
Directed by Alex Timbers
“No one’s modern anymore,” says Magic Screen. “Modern is antiquated.” Uh, I know you are, but what am I!? Such is the guiding philosophy of this feel-great nostalgiafest, an updated semi-revival that succeeds by tickling our sentimental-centers with unambiguous delight. Like this summer’s Toy Story 3
, The Pee-Wee Herman Show’
s aimed not just at kids and their parents but at the Millenials and Gen X’ers raised with Pee-Wee, now grown and possessed of disposable income. It manipulates their memories, tugs their heartstrings: ordinarily, a set—here, David Korins’ spin on Gary Panter’s TV playhouse—doesn’t get an ovation equal to the star’s. You don’t usually see crowds amass outside a Broadway theater, as they do at the Stephen Sondheim, to pose for photographs with the advertising materials.
Pee-Wee, of course, ignominiously disappeared from the popular culture 20 years ago, though it’s hard to find anyone these days who’d argue Paul Reubens got his deserts. This Broadway reunion (through January 2), then, serves not only as a giddy celebration but also as a source of closure. Herman’s movies and old show are referenced in abundance: Chairry, Miss Yvonne and many others are back, Pee-Wee (Reubens) does his signature “Tequila” dance, and he delivers each of his applause-ready catch phrases. There’s even a Penny cartoon! But this show’s modest success doesn’t just depend upon a familiarity with these loveable motifs. Reubens’ great talent has always been his skewered evocation of youth itself, his pitch-perfect imitation of a sarcastic child situated within a subversively idealized childhood—where gift-bearing friends drop by all day, but never overstay their welcome; where every inanimate object has been made animate; where the games, jokes, snacks and candy are endless; and where sexuality figures only in the numerous double entendres.
Reubens and co-writer Bill Steinkellner (with additional material by John “Jambi” Paragon) largely ignore plot: Pee-Wee is getting a computer, and his Playhouse pals are against it. He also wants to fly, which climaxes in a bit that might be familiar: the show recycles material from the various Pee-Wee properties, including the original 1980 stage show broadcast on HBO the following year. (There’s new material, too, like a post-Patriot Act one-liner about the government reading our mail, or the running joke about Pee-Wee’s abstinence ring.) Director Alex Timbers keeps all of these punch lines n’ quick skits moving at the same antic clip he brought to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
, still playing a few blocks away. This scatterbrained, Saturday-morning structure ensures that nobody’ll get bored; being bored, after all, is every child’s worst nightmare. And if not everyone in the audience is 12-or-younger, they’re obviously there because they wish they were— if just for 90 minutes.
(Photo credits: Jeff Vespa, Joan Marcus)
Visting Pee-Wee Herman's Broadway Playhouse
Photos from the set of the new production based on the seminal and strange 80s franchise.
Click to View 8 slides