The Pee-wee Herman Show, presented by Bud Light, Goldenvoice and Scott Sanders Productions, opens Jan. 12;Â plays Tues.-Fri., 8 pm; Sat., 4:30 & 8 pm; Sun., 4 pm; through Feb. 7. Tickets: $29.50-$125. Club Nokia @ LA Live, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. 800.745.3000 or ticketmaster.com. For more information, peewee.com
The Pee-wee Herman Show first premiered at the Groundlings back in 1980 and then moved on to the Roxy. Since then, Pee-Wee Herman (aka Paul Reubens) has become a cultural icon to adults and kids alike thanks to his hugely popular children’s show Pee-wee’s Playhouse which ran on CBS from 1986 to 1991.
Nearly 20 years later, Reubens is bringing back Pee-wee and the Playhouse gang to Club Nokia @ LA Live. Director Alex Timbers says, “It’s a 90-minute theatrical extravaganza.” Modeled after the TV show, it incorporates the plot-line from the original show:Â Pee-wee’s quest to fulfill his lifelong dream to fly. “There’s going to be a lot of tricks and surprises…it’s a real feast for the eyes,” reveals Timbers. “It’s a hilarious take on a part of each of us. I really think young people will enjoy it as well as older [people] and those who saw the TV show.”
Timbers relates about working with Reubens on the stage show. “Pee-wee is really OK with departing from the Playhouse. But he was clear on the mythology that’s important. I felt my part was to push in the direction of trying new things.” Such as, “How do we take the iconic elements and put them all together and make them more theatrical?”
Did Timbers watch the show? “Yeah, absolutely. I love Pterri the Pterodactyl so I’m always trying to push for more Pterri,” he laughs.
The puppets were a major part of the show but on TV, they don’t have to work in a synchronous manner. They were able to do cut-a-ways. But, obviously, the puppets will need to be fully functional on stage. No TV magic, thus theatre magic will have to be implemented. “It’s been interesting to re-conceive the puppets and finding puppeteers to make it work,” admits Timbers.
Is this Pee-wee back in the ’80s or now? “[The show] doesn’t really exist in any time. We don’t acknowledge it but there are many updated pop culture references,” he tells.
This stage version began with Reubens wanting to make a film. “I wanted to make a movie based on Pee-wee’s Playhouse – it’s a giant, epic adventure but no one wanted to make it,” Reubens says candidly. Not letting that affect him he’s written another script for the stage. Reubens started out on stage so he thought, “Why not?” After this he hopes to make the movie version.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse was truly an original show while at the same time it had a pastiche to the classic kids’ shows of the 1950s. And there’s nothing on TV today that quite parallels it.
The stage production was originally set to open in November at The Music Box Theatre but an overwhelming demand for tickets forced a venue change to the much larger Club Nokia. “I’m thrilled by the immediate fan reaction,” says a humble Reubens. He hopes fans will take delight in the stage version. “It’s not that different from the TV show.”
Reubens agrees with Timbers: The puppets are the most challenging aspect. “Working with puppets in real time is very complicated but if everything works it will be dazzling technically.”
When writing the script, Reubens didn’t think about how it would all work out. “My job is just to write it; it’s someone else’s job to figure out how to make it happen,” he laughs. “It’s ambitious what we’re doing. I hope it works.”
Back in 1980, “the original show was done on a shoe-string budget. I borrowed $5,000 from my parents,” he laughs. Now they’re doing a Broadway-scale production. “Part of the thrill for me is being surrounded by all this talent.”
Many of the original cast members are rejoining the show. Working with them again “has been completely natural” but at the same time, “it’s weird.” He elaborates, “Some of the dialogue has been around for awhile.” So saying it again after all these years is a bit like déjÃ -vu.
Right now, Reubens isn’t feeling any pressure. “I’m just dumbstruck. I know the show is fantastic; I know people are going to love it.”
Expect to see some of the old favorite characters including Miss Yvonne, Jambi the Genie, the talking chair Chairry, Pterri the Pterodactyl and Cowboy Curtis. In addition there will be new characters: A handyman who wires the playhouse to the Internet, ShamWow, PayPal and a Bear.
Reubens says, “There’s a lot of new elements yet it feels familiar at the same time.” Will there be a different secret word every night? Without missing a beat, “Come see it more than once!” laughs Reubens in typical Pee-wee fashion. “It’s going to be really, really good! I swear!”
Feature image and story image by Chris McPherson; headshot is by Greg Gorman.
Article by Ashley Steed