The Pee-Wee Herman Show
Had the surreal blast of attending the hit revamped version of “The Pee-Wee Herman Show” last night. Here’s what I wrote last year in a reverie about the original HBO broadcast of his groundbreaking stage fantasia:
Like most of America, I first discovered Pee-Wee Herman through his 1981 HBO special, apropos named “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” a taped live version of his hit LA Groundlings show and precursor to his beloved Saturday morning series. I was entranced with Paul Reuben’s brilliant deconstruction of children’s shows situated in a pop universe designed by Gary Panter, influenced by 50’s educational films and Japanese cartoons. With a wide cast of colorful characters such as Phil Hartman’s sea dog, Captain Carl, and Miss Yvonne, “the most beautiful woman in the world,” the show managed to both playfully tweak kid’s television and honor its wide-eyed innocence.
We all know about the rest of Pee-Wee’s rise to movie and kid-vid fame and the ridiculous brief fall from media grace. When Reubens announced a revival of his stage show last year, I was only slightly worried that he could pull it off, but the overwhelming demand for tickets led to a last minute venue change from the most apropos Henry Fonda Theatre to the more inapropos Club Nokia in downtown LA. Walking towards the Nokia complex with its barrage of spotlights felt like entering the Neo-Tokyo in AKIRA. Fortunately, my fears were dispelled within notes of the infectious original theme song by Jay Cotton (not the Mark Mothersbaugh TV version) and then to see that beautiful pop playhouse stage…and when Pee-Wee Herman strolled out, we were all hooked again. It’s one of those moments where you think to yourself, “This is really happening — there’s Pee-Wee in person!”
I won’t go into all the details, but the show worked just as well as the 1981 version (with updated gags) especially the show-stopping “Abstinence” song (Reubens knows the best way to kill a meme is to bring it out in the sunlight). It was a treat to see the original Mailman Mike return (John Moody), along of course with the mystical Jambi and still the most beautiful woman in Puppetland, Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart). The sets and puppetry were fantastic, as were the technical credits including the lovely Chairy (voiced by the amazing Lori Alan) who shared a poignant moment with Pee-Wee. Bravo to director Alex Timbers for keeping the pace fast and furious as an episode of the series. The show belongs in a theater proper, as Club Nokia was too much of a Club Nokia, but that will change when it heads to…Broadway.
After the show, hung out in the VIP lounge (impressed?) and took a photo with John Paragon in his Jambi gear. Paul Reubens did an absolutely awesome Q&A and he took on every question, dumb or smart, with perfect answers or zingers:
Q: “How did you come up with Pee wee?”
A: “Uh, there’s this little thing called the internet…”
He told an archetypal Hollywood story about Paramount kicking him out of his huge lot office the Monday after BIG TOP PEE WEE opened to weak box-office and reviews. If Reubens wanted to be a talk show host, he would rule the roost. The best part was when he expressed with genuine emotion how grateful he is to everybody who cares about the character — watching Pee Wee Herman stifle tears…we all felt like the Luckiest Boy In The World. I woke up this morning with a song in my head and a roar in my throat…