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Pee-wee Herman on Broadway: What did the critics think?

November 12, 2010 | 10:18 am


It's been a long time since the Tim Burton movie, the television show and the sex scandal. Now Pee-wee Herman is back -- older and hopefully wiser, making his big Broadway debut this week in the newly rechristened Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

"The Pee-wee Herman Show," which plays for a limited run through early January, is a 90-minute, intermissionless stroll down memory lane in which actor-writer Paul Reubens trots out his beloved cult character from the '80s. Directed by Alex Timbers, the show features a host of supporting characters from Pee-wee's hit television show, including Jambi the Genie, Cowboy Curtis and Miss Yvonne.

Reubens debuted his new stage show in Los Angeles in January. The show, which ran at Club Nokia in downtown's L.A. Live complex, proved to be a popular hit, though fans were upset when the actor moved the venue from the previously announced Music Box @ Fonda in Hollywood.

In his review of the L.A. engagement, Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote that he wished the show felt "a little less reheated" but added that Timbers "was a great choice of directors." (Timbers also has "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" on Broadway -- another L.A. to New York transfer.)

As fans know, Pee-wee got his start in L.A. in the early '80s playing a live show at the Groundlings Theatre and later at the Roxy.

So what did the New York critics have to say about Pee-wee Herman's latest comeback?

Charles Isherwood of the New York Times called it "nothing more and nothing less than a bubble bath of nostalgia for the many adoring fans of Pee-wee," adding that he was "disappointed that the stage show featured little in the way of adventure, which is to say plot."

The New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote that "to watch all this live feels supremely familiar and comforting, like eating a huge ice-cream sundae topped by a mountain of whipped cream and exploding sparklers." The critic added that "this is essentially a nostalgic trip, and you wish Reubens and co-writer Bill Steinkellner had created more new material for the occasion. Pee-wee may be timeless, but that doesn't mean he should be stuck in the past."

Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly described the show as "a knowing Proustian reflection on time passing and innocence lost -- both Reubens' and our own. And throughout, the secret word is fun." The critic wrote that the show "is staged with modern brio by director Alex Timbers ("Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,") who produces a dazzling acid ride of color, light, goofy anarchy, punchy video clips, and juicy sound effects."

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney wrote that "three decades have done nothing to blunt the edges of Reubens' inspired characterization," though "the secret word of the day is nostalgia, not rehabilitation, and the core audience's built-in affection for Pee-wee and Co. provides a useful distraction from the writing's lack of structure."

John Simon of Bloomberg had trouble getting in the spirit of the show. "I don’t know what is more retrograde: a 58-year-old frozen-faced buffoon or the antique antics rehashed by the script," he wrote. "About the kindest thing one can say is: It is at least a harmless kind of idiocy."

-- David Ng

Photos: Paul Reubens on the set of "The Pee-wee Herman Show" on Broadway. Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press


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Pee-wee Herman heading to Broadway

'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson' on Broadway: What did the critics think?