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Pee-wee Herman Needs a Minute at His Opening Night Party

Still wearing his red bow tie and high-water gray suit, hair slicked back and face covered in stage makeup, Pee-wee Herman practically skipped from interview to interview at the opening-night party for The Pee-wee Herman Show last night, laughing that laugh and telling everyone how “super-duper excited” he was about his Broadway debut. (Read New York Magazine's exuberant review here.) “I can’t even put it into words,” he told TV crews. “It’s so overwhelming. It’s opening night and a lot of friends and family are here. It’s just been incredible. The only thing that could make it better would be the fabulous reviews I’m hoping we’re going to get any minute!” He crossed his fingers and gave a big Pee-wee wish-grin to the ceiling. Unfortunately, Jambi the Genie had already gone inside the party.

When the man who’s been known as Paul Reubens in the darker hours of these last two decades stepped out onstage that night, the audience had given him a standing ovation so long that he had to cut them off so the show could start. From there came roaring laughter and sing-alongs and constant screaming out at the utterance of the night’s secret word, “fun.” Waiting for him inside the party were old Pee-wee’s Playhouse friends like S. Epatha Mekerson, a.k.a. Reba the Mail Lady, and Natasha Lyonne, who had her television debut at age “6 or 8” (she can’t remember) as Opal, a member of the Playhouse gang of kids. She told us, jokingly, that for her the show represents “the only good memories of my childhood!” And she still remembers shooting an episode in which she had to eat ice cream that tasted like chalk. “I guess it was a prop, and I didn’t quite understand why that was, because I don’t think I understood that I was acting so much as I was like, ‘Where’s my ice cream? This does not taste good.’ It was all very confusing. It was a good lesson in acting, I guess. It was a terrible lesson in ice cream.”

The original Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), Jambi the Genie (John Paragon), and Mailman Mike (John Moody) — all in the Broadway show — feasted on the kid-appropriate catering, which included lasagna and macaroni and cheese, among a gathering of all the New York cultural figures one would hope would show up to a Pee-wee opening: John Waters, Parker Posey, Anthony Edwards (the original revenging nerd!), Martha Plimpton, Justin Bond, Susan Sarandon, Alan Cumming, Wendy Williams, and Rosie O’Donnell. Did Waters like the show? “Are you kidding?! It was a beautiful triumph of a legend. That show was the best show since Howdy Doody.”

Meanwhile, Pee-wee/Reubens continued on down the press line. “I tell the cast every night I’m so happy, and I really mean it. This is my dream come true,” he told one crew. “Every night I come out onstage and I get choked up,” he told another. To Vulture, he joked about how he convinced the Playhouse family to come to New York: “I think if we’d been talking about Off Broadway, maybe I would have had some reservations, but when we said Broadway, Chairy and everybody’s eyes lit up.” We mentioned how his fashion sense now seems ahead of his time. “I’m waiting to have my attorneys speak to Mr. [Thom] Browne,” he said. Did Thom Browne cop his style? “I think so! Seems like it! Ha ha!” Reubens shed Pee-wee for a split second and told us that he has just started writing the new Judd Apatow Pee-wee movie, and that the Playhouse will not be involved.

Then, mid-interview, a friend rushed up. “Breaking news,” she said, breathlessly. “Reviews. Thumbs-up from every single paper. New York Times, Backstage, Variety, USA Today. All positive reviews.” Reubens gasped and turned toward his inner circle. “I’m going to cry,” he said, burying his head in his hands. He turned toward his next interviewer, opened his mouth, and then turned away again. “I need a minute,” he said, eyes brimming over. “Oh, I can’t even talk. I’m so emotional.” Then he gathered his composure. “What’s on the second floor of Pee-wee’s Playhouse?” the reporter from Variety wanted to know. Reubens grinned and immediately turned back into Pee-wee: “That’s for me to know and you to find out!”

Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images