The Pee-Wee Herman Show Live on Broadway
by Joe Sanders
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Image Entertainment October 4
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Yes, the rumors are true: The Pee-Wee Herman Show is back! After a very entertaining tour of the various late night talk shows Paul Reubens’ infamously loveable character Pee-Wee Herman has returned to the playhouse for an all new adventure live on Broadway. Reubens, who made appearances on Conan and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as Pee-Wee to promote the new show is just as loveable as ever as the child stuck in an adult body. He even did a guest spot on last season’s Saturday Night Live where he teamed up with cast member Andy Sandberg to go on a drinking binge and face the subsequent intervention. Comedy gold. While it may seem odd to see Pee-Wee in an adult scenario like this, The Pee-Wee Herman Show Live on Broadway definitely remembers its now adult audience and manages to safely play with innuendo and dark comedy in a way that is accessible to old and new audiences alike.
The story sees Pee-Wee Herman moving into the 21st century as his friend Sergio (Jesse Garcia) works to rewire the playhouse for internet access. This is a fairly loose story arc which does little more than set up a rather funny bit when Pee-Wee actually does get online for the first time later in the show. The entire show is a series of these strung together sub-plots, colliding in the same absolute insanity that fans of the original series are sure to appreciate. Other story arcs include a budding romance between Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr) and Miss Yvonne (Lynn Marie Stewart), as well as all of Pee-Wee’s playhouse friends (furniture) getting jealous of his new computer. Nothing is really connected to each other, but that is done with purpose to mirror the crazy randomness of the Pee-Wee character.
Reubens performance is spot on. The love he has for playing Pee-Wee Herman is obvious and infectious. Every time the camera shows the audience reacting to the show, it’s like watching a room full of children who happen to look like adults. They scream and applaud and never miss the word of the day. This is hardly a comment on the quality of the film, but in theatre, when the audience is feeding that level of energy to the actors on stage it makes the performance that much better.
As said before, the show does make a couple of adult-oriented jokes. Most are subtle and completely safe for children to watch as they will be unlikely to understand the hidden meaning, but others are flatly explained and might make it uncomfortable for some parents to show this to their children. A joke early on about the mailman forgetting to zip up his pants stands out as an example. Other than these few moments, the show is definitely still child friendly. It’s bright and colorful with lots of fun, over-the-top characters that are sure to grab any child’s imagination. In terms of watching the show as an adult, there is a distinct nostalgia at work here; making the viewer feel like a kid in Pee-Wee’s Playhouse again. It’s only when the more off-color jokes pop up that our adult knowledge clicks in and we’re taken out of that child mindset, but it’s mostly very effective here.
A couple of the more random moments in the show are arguably the show’s best. Pee-Wee spends a solid few minutes deflating a balloon at one point; letting the escaping air squeak and screech its way out. In another part, Pee-Wee shows us a short film (which looks like it was made in the 1960s) about how to have good manners in the school cafeteria. There’s no joke here, except that they’ve added in industrial sound-effects throughout the film which make it inexplicably hilarious. Within the playhouse, anything is possible. That world has no set of rules that must be followed. It’s crazy and random and sometimes needless, but the audience seems more than willing to go along with it as soon as the curtain rises.
The only special feature on the DVD is a feature length commentary by Paul Reubens and the Cast, but the movie by itself is more than enough reason to buy this. With all the color and visual elements at work here, it would also be a good idea to spend the extra money on a Blu-Ray copy.
Joe Sanders is a playwright and college instructor in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has a Master’s degree in playwriting and a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches Thought and Writing.
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