When it comes to Pee-Wee Herman, either you get it, or you don’t. As a die-hard fan who was 11 when his Saturday morning children’s show hit the airwaves, I was nothing short of obsessed when I heard he was re-mounting his original 1981 stage production on Broadway this fall. And when I finally got to see it for myself, the experience literally took my breath away. A Technicolor fantasia of anthropomorphized furniture, freaky friends (of the human and puppet variety), and retro filmstrips, the playhouse world actor Paul Reubens successfully parlayed from stage to film to TV in the late ‘80s is so vividly recreated here in NYC, I actually got a little misty when the curtain rose and the set was all lit up in front of me. After spending so many hours wishing I could visit that magical place as a kid, seeing it up-close and more beautiful than I’d ever imagined just swept me off my feet and had me bouncing and clapping and screaming in my seat whenever he uttered “the secret word.”
But being bowled over by the set and tickled by the show’s familiar tropes was just the beginning of the nostalgia-fest. In his re-imagining of the Pee-Wee universe, Reubens also reunited members of the original cast from the stage show and TV series to reprise their roles as his loveable friends and foils. Seeing Lynne Marie Stewart sporting that huge wig once more as Miss Yvonne, John Moody picking up the mailbag again as Mailman Mike, and John Paragon chanting again beneath a glowing turban as Jambi the genie definitely sweetened the deal.
As for the plot, there’s just enough of one to keep things moving. But in true kids’ show style, the storyline is really nothing more than a flimsy excuse to sing songs, play games, tell corny jokes, and break out zany props like the iconic “foil ball.” Which is why I opened this blog by saying either you get it or you don’t. My boyfriend, who accompanied me to the show, didn’t grow up in this country and wasn’t familiar with the show. So when I asked what he thought of the whole thing afterwards, his reaction really surprised me. He said it was fun, but that Pee-Wee’s manic screaming and running around put him on edge. He said he could tell I was really enjoying myself, but he wasn’t always sure what I was laughing at. Maybe it all comes down to what age you are when Pee-Wee first explodes into your consciousness. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun at the theater, and I could tell by the expression on the face of the little girl clutching a Pee-Wee doll to her chest across the aisle from me, her eyes as big as saucers, that she felt the same way.
The Pee-Wee Herman Show is now playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in NYC. For tickets, visit http://www.telecharge.com .
Emily Rems is a feminist writer, editor, rock star, playwright, and occasional plus-size model living in New York’s East Village. Best known as managing editor of BUST magazine, Emily is also a music and film commentator for New York’s NPR affiliate WNYC, and is the drummer for the horror-punk band the Grasshoppers. Her nonfiction writing has appeared in the anthologies Cassette from my Ex and Zinester’s Guide to NYC, and her short stories have been published in Rum Punch Press, Lumen, Prose ‘N Cons Mystery Magazine, Writing Raw, and PoemMemoirStory. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for fiction in 2015 and is working on a novel. Follow her on Twitter @emilyrems.