'The Pee-wee Herman Show' turns Sondheim Theatre into a playhouse

peewee-herman-show.jpgThe hipster audience files into the Stephen Sondheim Theatre and doesn't get antsy when the curtain rises nearly a half hour late because of technical difficulties.

This is an audience raised on "Pee-wee's Playhouse" on TV, then on the DVDs. And there are a few, like my friend and I, who had watched his shows and movies as moms, and found him one of the only entertainers, ostensibly for children, who invariably cracked us up.

That sensibility remains, and for those who loved Chairry, Cowboy Curtis and Jambi, this show is a silly, yet outrageously fun reunion. Paul Reubens, as Pee-wee, miraculously looks no different from when his sweet and wacky show was on TV and racked up 15 Emmy Awards during its five-year run. Now that sweet and wacky show is on Broadway as "The Pee-wee Herman Show" until Jan. 2.

Wearing his trademark gray suit, white shirt and shoes and red bowtie, Herman -- still slender and having a lot of fun -- takes the audience through what is essentially a few TV episodes, though with a bit more of an adult edge. There's a running gag about his abstinence ring, a wink and a nod to his 1991 arrest in a Sarasota, Fla., porn theater.

But the secret word is "FUN" and each time it's said (remarkably often, but hey, this is not Eugene O'Neill) the audience has to make noise. They also make a lot of noise each time one of the TV characters enters.

Cowboy Curtis ( Phil LaMarr) proudly wears his Jheri curls and purple chaps. Miss Yvonne ( Lynne Marie Stewart) has the biggest bouffant this side of "Hairspray." King of Cartoons ( Lance Roberts) makes a big deal out of just returning from a "King Family reunion" where he saw Larry King, Stephen King and Papaya King. Pee-wee says, "Let me pick up some of those names you dropped."

Mailman Mike ( John Moody) is dealing with his anger management issues and trying to not go postal on everyone. When this show was originally on, going postal was a scary reality, and Pee-wee, like everyone else, had no need for a computer. Plus, Pee-wee had the Magic Screen, which has all the answers.

The slight plot -- and really, one isn't looking for layers of dramatic nuance when one goes to see Pee-wee Herman -- is that Sergio ( Jesse Garcia) is installing cable for Pee-wee to have a computer. His playhouse friends worry that if he goes online, he won't hang with them anymore.

Meanwhile Miss Yvonne is in love with Cowboy Curtis and wants a romance.  Pee-wee learns a lesson about giving to others and all is well within 90 minutes.

The set, puppets and films are terrific. The 1950's-era black and white school films, especially the one about washing hands and being well mannered, are hilarious. There are a couple of little songs, a bunch of slight double-entendre jokes and a lot of reminiscing. But the humor is sharp and Reubens is terrific.
 
Those who grew up imitating Pee-wee's "hee-hee" will have a blast, and their moms, still trying to bleach memories of treacly cartoons from their memories, will also get a kick out of it.