Pee-Wee’s back and his magical world is as welcome as ever. Paul Reubens has returned to Puppet Land with many of his old friends by his side. Originally slated for the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, overwhelming advance ticket sales forced the gang to find a larger venue. Still small enough to be intimate, the Club Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles served as an odd but serviceable setting for what is a night of huge belly-laughs and pure joy.
The bizarre and futuristic environment of the Staples Center/Nokia Theater complex served as a slightly confusing intro to the youthful innocence of Pee-Wee’s world. But within seconds of Mr. Herman taking the stage, the glitz, neon and sweeping spotlights of the world outside quickly faded from memory. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, with its bright colors and dream-like characters, quickly embraced us all and carried us lovingly and delicately away.
Working from the basics of his original Groudlings stage show (which aired on HBO back in 1981), Reubens has modified the humor to include some contemporary references. And they all work as seamlessly as if they had been part of the original show. Sadly, with Phil Hartman no longer with us, the character of Captain Carl was sadly absent from the proceedings. In a Q&A after the show Reubens shared how he just couldn’t see anyone else stepping into that role. So he chose to keep Captain Carl a cherished memory rather than recast the part.
But back for more fun is John Moody as Mailman Mike, Lynne Marie Stewart as Miss Yvonne, and the always lovable John Paragon as the mysterious and jovial Jambi. The rest of the cast and crew do a breathtaking job of bringing the Playhouse world to life. Particularly the lovely and talented Lori Allen as the voice of Chairry (among others), one of the most beloved characters in Puppetland. And wait till you see the Chairry and Pee-Wee musical dance number (yes, that’s right, I said dance number) that is a downright show-stopper.
After the show, I had the privilege of hanging in the VIP lounge and meeting some of the cast. It was a treat, to say the least, enhanced by the colorful setting of Club Nokia’s bizarre fourth floor. After that, we attended a Q&A with Reubens that was as entertaining as the show itself. Sharp and full of biting wit, Reubens –both comfortable and articulate– engaged the crowd with relish. He was extremely funny as well as sincere, and his genuine appreciation and gratitude for the fans that have stuck around was downright moving, both for Reubens and those of us in the audience. It was great to learn of some of the scenes that had been cut from the show, in part for financial reasons and in part to make the show a tad more “kid-friendly.” Gone is a scene referencing medical marijuana and Pee-Wee’s fear that it will lead him straight to heroin. Probably for the best, I think. While the show still references some adult themes, most, if not all of them, will soar right over the kiddies’ heads. Including an active left hand sporting an “abstinence ring.”
There’s rumor of a Broadway run, which would be wonderful. The Los Angeles run ends this Sunday and, if you can, I urge you to go. There are still some Standing Room Only tix. Don’t worry, the place is small enough that you won’t miss a thing.
As for me, I attended the show on the heels of a nasty flu and, after having pumped myself full of several different medications throughout the week, I can say with all certainty that an evening spent with Pee-Wee Herman and his Playhouse friends was above and beyond the best medicine I could have had for what ailed me. Two days later, I am still floating on air.
I was, and still am, the luckiest boy in the world.