« Previous | Culture Monster Home | Next »

Theater review: 'The Pee-wee Herman Show' at Club Nokia

January 21, 2010 |  4:53 pm


Hello, Pee-wee!  Boy, were you gone for a long time! It seemed like 400-billion-trillion years. Maybe even longer. I know you don’t like it when people pry into your personal life, so let me just say that it was swell to see you and the old gang of animate and inanimate (that means living and not living) chatterboxes again. (Hi, Chairry! You’re my favorite!)

Club Nokia is a pretty swanky address for “The Pee-wee Herman Show,” the new updated version of the old stage play that led to your becoming a household name. No, I didn’t just call you a dishwasher. I’m saying you’re famous. Or were famous. Or still are with people who love the '80s so much they want to marry the whole decade, even if they were barely born then and don’t know one song by Boy George.
Don’t get mad, Pee-wee, if something I say doesn’t sound like a compliment. One of my jobs as a critic is to make richer, more talented people feel bad about themselves. But I think your character is genius. And if you don’t like my words you can always put your fingers in your ears and say “La, la, la, la, la, la, la….”

Peewee2 First, let me say you’ve hardly changed. Still as lanky as ever, even if I could tell that puberty passed you by eons ago. My mean friend (even worse than bicycle-stealing Francis) asked me whether you had plastic surgery. I’m going to say no. I don’t even think you had Botox. But time doesn’t stop for anyone, not even for those hiding out in the eternal childhood of your colorful Puppetland universe, like Lynne Marie Stewart’s character Miss Yvonne, who now looks like Miss Yvonne’s mother.
Your outgrown gray suit should have tipped me off to this basic fact of biology. The outfit doesn’t fit you any worse than before -- it’s still short in the sleeves and tight and high in the legs. But your voice has gotten older. And that wiry body that was like a dancing marionette in its prime has slowed down. If I were a poet, I could write an ode titled “On Seeing Pee-wee Herman A Quarter-Century Later” and make the whole world cry. But as I’m just a critic, I’ll skip that. And anyway, the whole age thing adds to the campy effect, though I kind of wish you had played with it and not just let me notice it on my own. 
I loved the beginning of your show best. When you walked on stage and said, “Good morning, boys and girls,” and then made us all stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance, it was like being back in elementary school, except with a teacher who might do something crazy at any minute. A teacher who maybe you later found out spent a little time behind bars! I think I got that impression when you mentioned that the show was being brought to us by yourself and Bud Light. That line made everyone crack up!

PWgallery refer

The playhouse is still so beautiful!  It's like what the board game Candy Land would be if it were a house. You’ve always had incredible taste, Pee-wee, and scenic designer David Korins captures the old kitschy magic. (Could I come over to play with all the talking puppets on a rainy El Nino day like today?) Oh, and just the look of Ann Closs-Farley’s costumes tickled me, especially when Phil LaMarr, who plays Cowboy Curtis, walked out in purple and white chaps that made him look like one of the Village People on New Year's Eve.

Alex Timbers, who runs the really cool New York-based company Les Freres Corbusier, was a great choice of directors. He gets the madness and knows how to be deadpan about it. But I wish you (a.k.a. dorky Paul Reubens) and your co-writer Bill Steinkellner (working with additional material by John Paragon) could have delivered a better script. A half-hour into the show I started wondering whether this was going to be like watching three back-to-back episodes of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” I know that the show is a cult TV classic, and nostalgia junkies probably watch 10 of them in a row on DVD. (Many of them were in your audience on Wednesday night, laughing louder than the world’s loudest laugh track.) But the show started to feel like a really long rerun.

OK, time for me to say something nice again: The movie clips were inspired, Pee-wee!  I especially liked the vintage 1950s educational film about Mr. Bungle and the importance of good manners at school. While I was watching, I got a glimpse into those repressive forces that went into making your character feel safe and unruly at the same time. You didn’t just come out of nowhere, Pee-wee, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who could say, “Pee-wee, c’est moi.”

That’s French, by the way, for "Pee-wee is me." Yes, after all these years and a humongous sex scandal (which I know I’m not supposed to mention, but I can’t help it), the figure you created has an uncanny hold on us. More for adults than children, who wouldn’t get any of the ever-so-slightly salacious double-entendres (translation: dirty jokes) even if they would definitely appreciate your refusal to grow up into a boring adult.

I wish “The Pee-wee Herman Show” was a little less reheated. Still, I’m glad you came back. I know you’re trying to make a big pile of money and get a movie deal (good luck on both fronts!). But as far as I'm concerned, this marks the restart of a beautiful old friendship. 
-- Charles McNulty

Follow him on Twitter @charlesmcnulty

"The Pee-wee Herman Show," Club Nokia @ L.A. LIVE, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Schedule varies (Info. at www.peewee.com). Ends Feb. 7. $29.50-$125. (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. 

Related stories:

'Pee-wee Herman' premiere: Hasselhoff, Arquette, Tomei, Samberg and more flock to the L.A. after-party

Pee-wee Herman is back at the playhouse

Photos: Top: Conky the robot and Paul Reubens. Bottom: Phil LaMarr and Reubens. Credit: Bret Hartman / For The Times

Comments () | Archives (37)

Welcome back PeeWee... you've been missed!

I wish a critic had not written about this show. Viva inspiration and tenacity Pee Wee!

What a fun review to read!

I saw the old live show a number of times and always felt that it was superior to the TV show. I found the TV show kind of boring even though it was very similar. I plan to see the new show and if it's a carbon copy of the old one i'll be very happy.

That was a super annoying way to write a review -- way more annoying than anything Pee Wee could do. The show was wonderful. I think you should have spent more time critiquing and less time trying to incorporate vintage Pee Wee references.

You actually went to see Pee Wee live expecting to see a great story with dramatic twists and turns? Come on, man. You can't review this show with the same critical eye as some off-broadway thespian production. It's an event. A fun time.

I was there last Friday night. I left smiling. The show was very interactive and feels very participatory. The great set, lighting and sound really elevate the production. Seeing Pee Wee back in action was even better.

But writing an open letter to Pee-Wee as your review? What are you, an indie rock critic with a Che Rivera t-shirt who thinks Pet Sounds is the greatest album ever?

Forget this Charles McNulty character. Pee Wee was rock and roll. Enjoy yourself at the show.

Uh, that's Guevara, not Rivera. I'm enlightened too, just not a very good proofreader.

Charles, You wrote - that it was swell to see you and the old gang of animate and inanimate (that means living and not living) chatterboxes again. (Hi, Chairry! You’re my favorite!) - Only not all of the old gang the “The Pee-wee Herman Show", were included in show. For some unknown reason the amazingly talented Alison Mork, the puppeteer and voice of the beloved Chairry (your favorite and my favorite) on the TV version of "The Pee-wee Herman Show" and maybe others were left out. So disappointing...Maybe you can find out why.

I'm glad he's back. If Bill Clinton can get away with what he did, Pee Wee should have no problems.

"restart of a beautiful old relationship"? With whom? You and PeeWee?
Every other paragraph is filled with snide commentary and negative asides. It reads to me, (very deeply between the lines) as though everyone but you seemed to enjoy the show. Sorry time hasn't stood still for everyone but you, but we all get older, and some artists do their best to recreate memories for their peer fans who have also aged. Don't take your job title (Criticism) so seriously as to think your negativity is a tough job. Anybody can do it. Get a life-there are things to like out there. Bottom line.

gary panter designed those sets 25 years ago, and David Korins was credited. what's up with that?
where was Hermit Hattie? And Hammy & Susan? and the rest of the gang?
you can't go home again. I saw this show in the 80s about 6 times and this was tired and hacky. And the age thing: scary.
what's the real story? really?

I was there last night and wish I could get my money back. Ruebens looked ancient, the whole vibe was like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and the show just gave me the creeps. Go away Pee-Wee. And stay away.

Terrible review. It was vicious and unprofessional.

a Che Rivera t-shirt... indeed!

Nothing more pathetic than a critic trying to be more clever than the act he is reviewing. Charles--you are no Pee Wee--stick to writing in your own style (if you have one)

Wait. This was just a parking lot...Now its a Playhouse, theater, movie house, Starbucks, everything I need. Big Improvement. Parking wasn't bad either. The show as great fun. I know Pee Wee's troubles and just wanted to be there for his return. I am not up on all the characters, inside jokes, and the like, but I had a good time suspending my disbelief. Yes, it got a little long after about an hour for me, but it was worth sticking around for the end. And I hate the 80's! Just kidding. Not. Then marry it...

I went to the show last Sunday, a little pissed off still because I was one of the original patrons who had tickets for the cancelled shows in November. I left thoroughly charmed by the set, the production and Paul Reubens himself. He kept his promise to have a meet and greet after the show for us affected patrons and couldn't have been more contrite, engaging and totally charming. I loved the Pee Wee Herman Show so much that I want to marry it! Go See It if you have a chance as it may be for a limited time and you will kick yourself years from now if you don't!

The show was good and fun, the review was good and fun. After reading these comments, the only thing I thought was terrible, vicious, and unprofessional were some of the comments themselves. The reviewer was unprofessional because he wrote in a Pee Wee-esque style? What's up with that comment? He should use his own style, if he has one? You'd know if he had his own style if you had ever read any of his other stuff, which is good. Telling Pee Wee to go away and stay away? It's a free country, and no one, I promise you, will force you to watch Pee Wee again if you don't want to; but why do you want to dictate what the rest of us can watch? You guys just need to calm down.

I thought the crack about Miss Yvonne looking like Miss Yvonne's mother was mean-spirited. Maybe it's just because I'm inhabiting the 50's time warp that Pee-wee intentionally evokes, but I think McNulty was being a bit of a Mr. Bungle with that line.

I've been waiting for this one. Thanks for a great review that not only critiqued and entertained, but gave details about the show.

1 2 | »


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.