I bought tickets to The Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway as soon they went on sale back in May. I knew it was a bit risky, considering the initial first revival attempt in Los Angeles in 2009 was canceled in favor of moving it to a bigger theater. But it wasn’t until Pee Wee whipped the Internet into a frenzy with recent Twitter musings and Foursquare check-ins when it really sunk it – this show is definitely happening.
It was opening night and the crowd was full of aging Gen-Xers and assorted Pee Wee enthusiasts. The houselights went down, and Pee Wee poked out shyly in front of the curtain to a standing ovation; It’s amazing how people love this character so much, even years after the show went off the air.
He had us recite the Pledge of Allegiance, naturally, before stepping back behind the drop again. The music swelled and the curtain drew, neon lines raced in darkness around the borders of the set pieces. The lights then blasted on, revealing Pee Wee’s Playhouse teeming with electricity, life, color and movement. The flowers in the window wriggled, fish floated in the fishtank. The whole gang was here! Chairry, Globey, that talking window thing, Magic Screen – it was euphoria.
This show was designed for maximum nostalgia overload, totally aware that every character and moment translated from the TV show to the theater would get approving, giddy shrieks from the crowd. Voices as well as characters and sentiment were all faithfully reproduced and, in several cases, upgraded for modern times. For example: Miss Yvonne’s hair was boosted with a Bump-It.
Two major plotlines ran throughout the 90-minute show. The first was that Pee Wee’s Playhouse was being wired for a computer. The second we learned from Pterri the Pteradactyl who lumberingly flew onto the set via an unseen puppeteer. Pterri bragged about how awesome it was that he could fly and how it must be such a bummer that Pee Wee couldn’t. “Gotta take off, the thermals are outrageous,” he jabbed before flapping awkwardly away, thus revealing the second plot point: Pee Wee wanted to fly.
Fortunately, the Playhouse has a live-in genie named Jambi who can grant one wish. But as Miss Yvonne has a wish too, Pee Wee has to choose whether to use his wish on himself or his friend. Be prepared to say several ‘mekka lekka hi-mekka hiney hos’ in order to see either of their dreams realized.
Paul Reubens masterfully kept every moment in the Playhouse fun – “FUN” was the night’s secret word after all. He even turned the live gaffes into bits of joy – like when Conky the robot dropped a piece of foil meant for the foil ball and when Miss Yvonne struggled to fit a large hairpiece on Chairry. The supporting cast was phenomenal too. Standout performances from saucy Jesse Garcia (Sergio), Seth Meyers’ brother Josh Meyers (playing a randy Firefighter and the voice of Conky), Lexy Fridell (as the heart-tugging, sickeningly-sweet voice of Chairry) and Lynne Marie Stewart (the prettiest girl in all the land, Miss Yvonne). Lynne, who’s had bit roles in almost every culturally significant comedic television series since the 70’s – most recently with her turn as Charlie’s Mom on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – was the only person from the original TV cast to make it to this stage.
The Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway: nonstop fun, brilliant set design, sick puppeteering, and a marketing campaign deserving of a case study – it was fulfilling from start to finish. At the top of The Late Show last night, David Letterman sprinted breathlessly to his monologue mark and joked that he was running late because he had to buy Pee Wee tickets. I suggest sprinting for tickets too as this is once-in-a-lifetime theater. Unless, of course, it’s extended from 10 weeks on Broadway to eternity in Vegas (which it probably should be).
Nate Sloan is the editor of The Apiary, a terrific comedy news and gossip site.