I’ve loved Pee-Wee Herman ever since I was a kid. In a lot of ways, I haven’t changed much since then so when I found out The Pee-Wee Herman Show was coming to Broadway I had to have tickets. And since I didn’t know how well the show would be received or how long it would last I knew I had to get tickets fast. Not realizing initially that the show was based on the not child-friendly original HBO Pee-Wee Herman Show, I got a ticket for my son as well. He mainly knows Pee-Wee from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure but he loved him in that so he was pretty excited about going too. A friend of mine saw the show back in November and after talking it over with him, I decided the “dirty” jokes would be the type that would go over my son’s head. So… December 23rd… all Christmas spirity… we headed to the show.
The stage, even before the show started really put you in the mood for what was about to go down and when Paul Reubens aka Pee-Wee Herman hit the floor, the crowd absolutely erupted. It was nothing like I’d ever seen or heard before at any of the Broadway shows I’ve been to. Ever. I had originally thought this might be a theatre crowd, the type who go to everything just for the snooty theatre experience, but no... this was Pee-Wee mania through and through. The distance, lighting and makeup made Reubens look like he hadn’t aged a day since 1985. It’s always sad to revive a character and get all excited that it’s still the original actor, not some weird, wrong replacement and then be so removed from the story because the person looks SO OLD. Sometimes you can’t win in situations like that. Luckily, for NYC and those attending The Pee-Wee Herman Show that night, we were all winners. Reubens was dead on. Also reprising their roles were Lynne Marie Stewart, the original Miss Yvonne- the most beautiful woman in Puppetland, John Moody as the thieving Mailman Mike and, finally, John Paragon as both Jambi, the genie in a box, and Pteri, the seemingly drunk pterodactyl. It’s great to see actors who so believe in a role that they still want to do it thirty years later. Some additional characters added to the show who were actually from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and not the original HBO special, were Cowboy Curtis, played by Phil LaMarr (I guess they couldn’t get Lawrence, I mean Larry Fishburne, haha) and The King of Cartoons, played by Lance Roberts (originally played by “Blacula” William Marshall). I was happy to see that Kap’n Karl’s character was omitted rather than trying to fill the shoes of the legendary Phil Hartman. In this version of the Pee-Wee Herman Show, Cowboy Curtis plays Miss Yvonne’s love interest and the switch works just fine. Puppet characters include Chairry (who stole the show in a super creepy dance sequence duet with Pee-Wee… seriously… creeeeee-py!), Magic Screen (who at one point offers oral sex to a fireman), Randy (the bully), Globey, Conky and Mr. Window. Of interest to horror fans is Chiodo Bros. Productions (of Killer Klowns fame) supplying the puppets for the show. They have a history with Pee-Wee having done the infamous Large Marge bit for Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
The story starts with Pee-Wee being offered a wish from Jambi the genie. Earlier in the show Pee-Wee and Miss Yvonne are discussing their secret wishes, Pee-Wee’s being that he could fly and Miss Yvonne’s being that Cowboy Curtis would like her. I mean really like her. Pee-Wee hears Miss Yvonne’s words ringing in his head and asks Jambi if he can use his wish for someone else and ends up wishing for Cowboy Curtis to really like Miss Yvonne. The two are all giggly and starry-eyed for each other during the rest of the show and Pee-Wee is feeling sad that he gave up his wish. If he could fly, after all, he’d be… the luckiest boy in the world. As in typical Playhouse fashion, there are a lot of goings-on intertwined with the main storyline. I was really happy to see a Penny cartoon included as well as a Mr. Bungle educational video on proper hygiene and manners for children, both regulars on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. All in all, The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway was everything it should have been and more. The enthusiasm of the crowd really made the whole experience and, I won’t ruin the end for you, but the finale was pretty amazingly done. Cheers to creative ingenuity and death to CGI. The secret word of the day was “FUN” and fun was definitely had by all.