Like many of you reading this, the 80’s will always be the best years of my life. There were so many great things back then worth remembering, such as the toys, music, cartoons, and shows. One show in particular will always have a special place in every child of the 80’s heart and soul: Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I can’t even begin to say how thrilled I was to see Paul Reubens take up the Pee-wee Herman role again after being away from the suit and bow-tie for so long.
It was really great of HBO to film one of his comeback Broadway shows in The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway, and I’m honored to finally have the chance to talk about it.
Most of the familiar cast from the original 80’s show are back, along with some new characters like Jesse Garcia (Electro Luxx) as Sergio and Drew Powell as a guy in a bear suit. Mad TV’s Phil LaMarr and Josh Meyers as did a great job as Cowboy Curtis and the new Firefighter character. And it was a treat seeing Lynne Marie Stewart as Miss Yvonne and John Paragon as Jambi again after all these years. The show starts off like any zany day at Pee-wee’s Playhouse, with the gang introducing themselves and Pee-wee testing out the magic word to make the audience scream; it’s almost like the past twenty-plus years never happened and they never missed a beat.
The new Latino character Sergio (who nearly steals the show) comes by to help set up the internet for Pee-wee’s new computer, much to the dismay of all his old gang, who thinks Pee-wee will replace of all of them one by one. Miss Yvonne and Cowboy Curtis stop by one after the other and tell Pee-wee they have a crush on one another, all while Pee-wee wishes he could fly like Pterri the Pterodactyl. Will Cowboy Curtis and Miss Yvonne be together? And will Pee-wee finally join the ranks of the internet and fulfill his wish to fly?
I really had a great time watching the gang return, and the live-audience was a blast and made you feel like you were right there watching along with them. It was a little sad not to see Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis, though Phil LaMarr does an excellent job filling in. Also not having the late (and great) Phil Hartman around as Kaptain Karl felt odd, but the new cast members fill in the blanks quite nicely. I loved how the show pushed and had fun with sexual innuendo that would’ve never flown on the 80’s show. Sergio’s sexy “forbidden” dance moves, Miss Yvonne talking about how she has ‘two things ladies are known for’ with her hands near her chest, and the iconic “darkness” scene where only the characters’ eyes can be seen and numerous kinky jokes abound are just a few of scenes that really make the show worth watching. I’m glad they were still able to capture the fun of the classic show while using modern pop-culture for those just tuning in.
There are some disappointing parts, too, such as some of the lame gags Paul Reubens recycles from nearly thirty years ago, to some that just aren’t funny, like letting out the air from a balloon slowly gag. But despite these low points, the show more than makes up for it with it’s zany charm and unmatched sense of childish wonder.
Few – if any – of the classic 80s Saturday morning shows were as wildly brilliant as Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and anyone who ever shared a good portion of their early morning weekend hours with Paul Reubens iconic character owes it to themselves to check out his grand return in The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway, if only for nostalgic reasons. Like the best programs meant for ‘kids’, Pee-wee’s bizarre imagination was never meant for them alone, and while fellow children of the 80s will most likely have mixed feelings about this updated and modernized Playhouse, its hard not to crack a smile (and tear) when seeing most of the gang back together again. I say leave your brain at the door and let Pee-wee and his friends do what they do best; tap into the spirit and fun of our inner-child and just have fun.