I was never a really huge fan of Pee-Wee Herman. I am rather fond of his first movie, "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure,"
and I certainly appreciated "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" on the odd occasion when I would catch it, but I wasn't a fanatic or anything.
Nevertheless, I was pretty excited to see him live on stage in The Pee-Wee Herman Show, now playing at New York's newly christened Stephen Sondheim Theatre. I caught the show last week, shortly after it opened to rather strong reviews. I was especially pumped about the show when I heard it would feature two of my favorite performers from "Mad TV," Phil LaMarr and Josh Meyers. Fortunately they didn't disappoint, bringing the same fresh-faced sparkle to their roles here as they did to that now-defunct TV series.
Would that I could say the same for Pee-Wee himself. While overall I certainly enjoyed myself, the show wore out its welcome rather quickly. A little Pee-Wee goes an awfully long way. The somewhat one-note proceedings here are the sort of thing where 70 minutes would have been much better than 90. The seats we had were really close to the stage, near enough to see the wear and tear, both in the material and the performers. Plus, Pee-Wee himself seemed to be on automatic pilot. The sense of fun and mischief was there, but his energy seemed wan and his eyes were bloodshot.
I am glad to see Paul Reubens making a comeback, though. I always thought he got a bit of a bum rap. I'm not talking about what actually transpired in that movie theater, but rather how his career essentially went on hold for 20 years. Some of the best parts of the current show occur when it makes sly references to the past indiscretions of its creator. For this isn't so much the Pee-Wee of the children's TV show as it is a return to the double-entendre-laced Pee-Wee of his original stage show. There's not much here that would be overtly objectionable to parents with their kids in tow; any child that really gets the underlying humor here probably wouldn't need a chaperon anyway.
As for director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), I didn't see his hand really appear on much of the show. I suppose that's the sign of a good director, but I get the feeling nearly anyone could have staged this show. It's all about the performances and the content, and not really about the presentation. It's possible I could be vastly underestimating Timbers' influence, but I really didn't notice anything that screamed "strong directorial hand." In any case, Timbers' work would seem to be beside the point here. This is a show for Pee-Wee fans, not theater mavens. And as is so often the case with nostalgia, the actual craft behind it is a secondary issue at best.
NOTE: New Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations require bloggers to disclose when they accept anything of material value related to their blog posts. I received complimentary press tickets to this performance of The Pee-Wee Herman Show.