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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)

Haven't seen the show, but I will.
Just a comment on the review: do you have any idea how brave it is for an artist to revisit a beloved character 25 years down the line.
It could be career suicide (thank goodness it's not in this case).
But it will bring on snarky reviews that harp on the obvious, like this one.
Yes he's older, slower and voice has changed. So are you. So what?
This is event theatre. Is the Nokia a little more upscale than the Roxy?
Yeah. Because Pee Wee is no longer an unknown, he's a STAR baby!
As for the review: If the audience was laughing and left with smiles on their faces, it's JOB WELL DONE. Period. A critical assessment is not really the point (and actually absurd). We get it Charles, you are not easily fooled by the nostalgia. You demand more plot turns, jokes, interactive moments, third act resolutions, or WHATEVER. Did you really think Pee Wee wouldn't be twenty five years older?
Just a bottom line review telling folks if the show delivered or not is all that was needed here.
Paul Rubens has GUTS for even attempting this (and amazing talent for still being able to do it so well).
Soap Box Moment: If Charlie Sheen can allegedly hold a knife to his wife's throat and still be allowed to appear on a top ten sitcom, perhaps Hollywood can now issue a pass to Rubens for doing something stupid in Florida almost twenty years ago. Just a thought.

My dear,
Critiqued like a jealous lovers divorce!

I personally thought it was a charming way to write a review. Don't see why certain commenters feel the need to spread the snarkiness. Goodness knows we get enough of it from popular media on a daily basis as it is!

Welcome back Pee-Wee...we love you and always have!

What fools so many have been..to "punish" an artist for being human. Ironically, the punishment really was ours, the audience who have missed out on Y-E-A-R-S of entertainment.

I would love to see the layers peeled of all the deciding studio execs and other morons lives...hypocrites abound. But I digress and as my granny says "you can't fix stupid".

Thanks for coming back Pee-Wee!!! big kisses....Mwah!

The Pee Wee Herman Show was great. I went with my kids ages 20 and 12 who had a FUN time. The audience LOVED the show. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Greet & Meet on Saturday afternoon. Paul Rubens was asking his supporters questions about the show and gave some in site on what he wanted and took suggestions on how to make a great show even better. I only wish the scooter was on the set.

Hey, nobody has said anything about children! Is this an adult only event? I have a five year old who loves the pee wee dvds.

Ugg. Embarrassing review. Memo to Chas McNulty: put aside your Portable Dorothy Parker. Stop with the Maureen Down envy. Stick to what you do best: brittle, intellectual reviews. Better yet, go back to New York. This sad attempt leaves Consant Reader fwowing up in her grave.

I loved this review. I personally thought it was a very clever and interesting review. It was a bit snarky, but that is appropriate when it comes to reviewing a show like Pee Wee's. It's witty, friendly, and engaging. Perhaps a bit mocking, but Pee Wee seems like the kind who doesn't mind a bit of teasing. Heck, he'll probably tease you right back.

Good job, Charles! Loved this review.

Imagination and a kid's-eye-view, alright!!I pledge alligiance to the Pee Wee Herman Show. Makes me smile just thinking about having a chance to see Pee Wee on stage.

wish there was more mention of Phil Lamarr. was never a huge pee-wee fan but i'll watch anything with Phil Lamarr.

I think this review is one of the nastiest pieces I have ever read. The annoyingly precious tone only serves to demonstrate the reviewer's failed efforts to cop Pee-Wee's style in the form of a critique. It doesn't work. And since when is one of the critic's jobs to "make richer, more talented people feel bad about themselves."? That's absolute nonsense. I actually believed the critic's job was to review the performance in a way that offers some kind of insight -- not just hurling barbs. By the way, I attended the show and thoroughly enjoyed the production. I include that fact so that you don't think I'm some kind of crazed Pee-Wee fan or "nostalgia junk[y]" who "probably watch[es] 10 of them in a row on DVD." Oh, how superior you must be to those kind of people, eh, Mr. McNulty? Also, your review suggests you have an extensive knowledge of the history of Pee-Wee and the various iterations of his television and stage show. However, you seem to wish the show was something other than a "long re-run" and then go on to write: 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." But Charles, Chuck, Chuck-O, may I call you that? (See how annoying it is to ape Pee-Wee's style?) The "inspired" selection of movie clips are the same exact clips from the Roxy stage show. That's not inspired. Then again, how could one expect you to recognize genuine inspiration when you've composed such lazy, uninspired twaddle? I have no knowledge of Mr. Reuben's finances but I will give you this, as you attempt to make him feel bad, he is certainly more "talented."

I don't care what Mr. Hoffman says. I love your reviews, Mr. McNulty. It was YOU, Charlie.

It's always you that keeps me coming back for more.

When someone insulted Pee Wee or called him a name, he'd say, "I know you are, but what am I?"

I know you're a critic, but what am I?

Not to nitpick, but "Peewee, c'est moi" means "Peewee, it's me". Just drop the "c'-" to "Peewee est moi" or "Peewee, il est moi."

Wasn't the Playhouse amazing???? I wanted to badly to play in it. I had a blast at PeeWee's show. Go, PeeWee!

Whoa - the LA Times review is so unfair! The current production isn't a re-hash of the TV series for a second - it's the Playhouse reprised live in hi-def and the content is fresh and surprising - total laff riot! And not a Shrek-style smart-ass pop culture in-joke, either. Brilliant work and MUST tour --

the special in pee-wee herman
we remember
the special in musicals
it seeems to be gone
the non-profit theaters want commercial stuff to make money
a greedy bunch
greed has taken over the arts
artistic things are not given a chance unless money is offered to the producers and names.
i write musicals but being they are artistic it is difficult getting a production.

This Critic thinks a little too highly of himself and a little too poorly of his readers. To assume you have to explain the meaning of animate and inanimate to anyone means that you are either writing for an 8 year old or treating your readers as one. The critic job itself is a cowardly endeavour. These are people who, having not made much out of themselves, vent their frustration upon the hard work and dreams of another. Never considering the sacrifices and investments hanging in the balance or the damage they may cause. Critics are a self righteous bunch that should be held more accountable for the words they speak or write.

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