Pee-wee Herman has been around ever since the 1981 debut of The Pee-wee Herman Show at the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles. Because I was too young to appreciate it, P.W. has been a cult sensation to me since 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, which lit up my life in strange and interesting ways. This character was the ingenious creation of playwright Paul Reubens, who is and will always just be Pee-Wee Herman to me.
Arriving at the newly rechristened Stephen Sondheim Theatre, I passed a diehard fan dressed just like Pee-wee. Buying a drink, I was given the option of taking it into the theatre in a “sippy cup.” Then I nearly fell out of my balcony seat when I saw the stage. Designed by David Korins, it replicated “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” in every way, with Chairry, Magic Screen, Clocky, Conky, Globey, Randy, Ptery-Dactyl, the flowers, and the fish. The reaction to Pee-wee’s first appearance on the stage that night created a kind of nostalgic hysteria in the audience. From my balcony seat, he didn’t seem to have aged at all.
Some of the original actors from The Pee-wee Herman Show were there that night, such as Lynne Marie Stewart (who played Miss Yvonne both on television and in the original Groundling stage show opposite the late and great Phil Hartman), Phil LaMarr (a Groundlings alumnus who played Cowboy Curtis), John Moody (who also played Mailman Mike in the original stage production), and John Paragon (who played Jambi, the character he created thirty years before).
The major parts of the show were exactly the same as before, but there were some new additions, including Pee-wee’s bedazzled suit, the Latino electrician named Sergio (who attempted to teach Pee-wee some Spanish), and a computer with Internet that threatened Magic Screen’s capabilities. Eventually, though, the computer was taken offstage, Pee-wee couldn’t pick up Spanish, and he returned to his same perfect grey suit. We all still screamed whenever someone inadvertently said the secret word, “fun,” the Mr. Bungle clip brought back important moral lessons (with exaggerated sound effects), and the foil ball proved to be in a state of healthy enormity.
Double entendres showed up here and there, but Pee-wee remained very innocent and socially awkward. The clashing of his childlike wishes with the maturity of his friends came out when Pee-wee had to choose between using his free wish to satisfy his lifelong dream of flying or help Miss Yvonne win Cowboy Curtis’ heart.
If some feel that Pee-wee was a bit awkward onstage, that’s because he was supposed to be awkward. If some feel he should’ve actually flown across the stage at the end, they are overlooking the fact that those cheesy puppetry flying capabilities could not have been any more similar to the closing of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Without a doubt, this is a show for those who are already true fans of Pee-wee.