Paul Reubens has finally returned to the scene of the crime (no, not that crime). Thirty years after the HBO special that introduced Reubens’s Pee-Wee Herman character to America, Reubens and his alter-ego are back this month as HBO debuts “The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway,” a 90 minute revival the original 1981 cable broadcast. Taped during its fall, 2010 run at New York’s Stephen Sondheim Theater, “The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway” will first air on Thursday, March 24th at 4:30 pm, with several repeat showings, including Saturday night, March 26th at 12:30 am.
Paul Reubens was working as an improvisational comedian in the 1970’s, when he stumbled upon the persona that he would later make famous. Wearing a gray suit, several sizes too small, a red bow tie and sporting a dorky crew-cut, Pee-Wee Herman, with his man-child look, voice and laugh, gained a cult following among Los Angeles comedy club patrons. Reubens developed an entire show around his creation, surrounding Pee-Wee with a cast of wacky characters on a stage that also included talking furniture. “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” which seemed like a nightmarish version of a 1950’s kid’s show, was performed for several months at L.A.’s Roxy Theater in front of sell-out audiences before HBO presented it in September of 1981 as part of its “On Location” series.
Although it was HBO that placed Pee-Wee Herman on the map, it was the many appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman” that really contributed to Pee-Wee Herman’s ascension into the mainstream during the early 1980’s, prompting Reubens to make a total commitment to the character. All appearances made by Paul Reubens during the 1980’s were as Pee-Wee Herman, suggesting that Reubens was trying to convince the public that Pee-Wee was an actual person. Pee Wee’s growing popularity made a feature film almost inevitable, and in 1985, Warner Brothers produced “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” which grossed over $40 million, and marked the full length film debut of director Tim Burton. By this time, it was becoming apparent that the appeal of Pee-Wee Herman had grown to include children. In 1986, CBS signed Pee Wee to star on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” which ran on Saturday mornings for five seasons.
“The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway” does not have much of a plot, but instead is comprised of a series of comedy vignettes. Much of the old gang is here, including Chairry, Clocky, Cowboy Curtis and Mailman Mike. Longtime fans will be pleased that John Paragon returns as Jambi the Genie, while Lynn Marie Stewart reprises her role as Miss Yvonne. Sorely missed is the late Phil Hartman, who played Captain Carl in the 1981 production.