By John Soltes / Editor in Chief
Photo courtesy of Joan MarcusPaul Reubens stars as Pee-wee Herman in a new Broadway show, playing through Jan. 2.
NEW YORK (Nov. 19, 2010) -- On Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, a time capsule is waiting to be discovered. "The Pee-wee Herman Show," the gloriously odd stage play by Paul Reubens, is as demented, weird, crazed, funny and downright side-splitting as they come. For lovers of the Pee-wee character, the show is a must-see, over and over and over again.
Reubens created the iconic man-child character back in the 1980s as a member of the prolific Groundlings group in Los Angeles. He played a sold-out set of shows at the Roxy Theatre, scored an HBO deal and it has been kitsch heaven ever since. Most people in their 20s and 30s remember Pee-wee best from his successful and Emmy-winning Saturday morning television series, "Pee-wee's Playhouse."
This new Broadway venture, which played Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre earlier in the year, harkens back to the Roxy Theatre days. It feels like a bloated (though still fresh) episode of the "Playhouse" series. All of the lovable Pee-wee friends are present and accounted for. There's Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart, who was the original Yvonne), plus Chairy (Lexy Fridell) and Cowboy Curtis (played by Phil LaMarr of "Mad TV"). Except for a few clever tidbits on pop culture in 2010, the show is a sucker punch of nostalgic giddiness.
There is the secret word of the day, plus all the great bits - "I know you are. But what am I?" is still a classic.
The audience at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre eats up the memories with a spoon (they did the same thing when I saw the show in January in Los Angeles). The 85-minute show, directed by Alex Timbers, flies by at a brisk pace (it may lag a bit for the uninitiated), and the jokes come one after the other. Reubens still looks the part, red bow-tie included. He has a comedian's knack for timing and an actor's skill at characterization. It's a perfect marriage of knowing oneself and knowing the audience.
There is a mania that surrounds Pee-wee that is entirely infectious. When the audience first sees him, the entrance applause is probably longer and greater than any other actor in recent Broadway memory. Move aside Angela Lansbury. Forget you Patti LuPone. Nathan Lane, who?
Pee-wee is in town.
"The Pee-wee Herman Show" runs at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre through Jan. 2. Visit www.peewee.com/broadway for more information or visit the box office at 124 W. 43rd St. in New York City.