Sunday, January 02, 2011

Pee-Wee Live

The movie Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was released in 1985, just as I was about to turn ten years old. I'll never forget seeing the trailers for it and not knowing who the guy was (I never had HBO growing up) or what the hell he was doing, but at the same time knowing I had to see it. Everyone else I knew seemed to have the same take on it. I saw the movie in the theater--twice, I think. The Pee-Wee's Playhouse TV show was even more bizarre than the movie, and it took us all right through puberty. Somehow it was still as cool to us at age 15 as it was at age 11.

It wasn't until years later that I'd discover the 1981 HBO special that launched Pee-Wee's career, The Pee-Wee Herman Show. It was a broadcast version of his made-for-adults stage show.

Recently, Reubens brought that show back to the stage. I saw that it was running on Broadway, but the price was too high. Still, I was glad this man who I've been a fan of all these years, and who was treated so unfairly by police and the media, was selling out all these shows and raking in the well-deserved dough.

But thanks to an Xmas gift from my mom, Kim and I got to go! We picked the night of January 1st since we'd be in NYC for New Year's Eve anyway.

It period-for-effect was period-for-effect awesome period-for-effect

The set was the playhouse. The colors were so vivid, you felt like you were inside it. Amazing job there.

What struck me was what great comedic timing Reubens has. After always seeing him on TV and in the movies, I kind of forgot the guy is an improv comic. As for the show itself, it's what you saw on HBO 30 years ago, with some key differences.

Phil Hartman is dead, so the Cowboy Curtis character fills in for Captain Carl in the saga of him and Miss Yvonne, who is played by the original actress.

There were some new characters--an electrician, a fireman, and a bear. But most of the classics were there (Jambi and Mailman Mike are also played by the original actors). Pterri was even flying around. Everybody's older but no one's lost more than maybe three-tenths of a step.

They also brought some modern references into it. They kill off a ShamWow, and it turns out the secret to Miss Yvonne's hair is those Bumpit things, which she ends up sharing with Chairy and Curtis's horse. Pee-Wee has a funny bit regarding his abstinence ring, too. But the best one was how, after connecting to the Internet and briefly becoming obsessed with it, Pee-Wee realizes everything he needs comes from his friends all around him. Magic Screen is his Wikipedia, Clockie tells the time, Globie is his GPS, Mailman Mike brings the mail, etc.

There's also the legitimately touching duet Pee-Wee does with Chairy. As with most things in the show, you expect it to be full of innuendo--especially since it starts with lines about "sit on me" or whatever. But it turns out to just be a perfectly normal song about a boy and his favorite chair.

The crowd was what I thought: people my age, with a few older, but mostly a little younger. And it was interesting to listen for reactions to things--you could tell who'd seen the original HBO special. I'd say most people hadn't. Kim and I were busting out laughing during the Mr. Bungle video (they also played a Penny cartoon) before the funny parts, as the people around us all watched this weird 50s clip for the first time in their lives. Instead of Pee-Wee, though, it was one of the talking fish who delivered the "big enough piece of cake or what??" line when it finished. (I was disappointed no one laughed at the "and he knew what else he wanted" line. Except us of course.)

Sorry, no pictures. They weren't allowed. I probably could have gotten away with breaking that rule, but I didn't want to get kicked out or annoy people--and at the end the ushers were really yelling at people who were just taking pics of the theater with the curtain closed. So I just enjoyed it from our sweet third-row mezzanine seats. Thanks again, mom!

Oh, and our secret word was "fun." Yes, I screamed. Real loud.

(The only minor negative was that the theater was unreasonably cold--worse than Letterman's studio. We didn't let it bother us, though. Tonight was the last night, so you can't go now anyway, but I read this all might lead to a new Pee-Wee movie!)


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Location: Rhode Island, United States