Pee-wee Herman’s zany romp on Broadway makes it to HBO
It all starts with the voice. Paul Reubens, better known as Pee-wee Herman, created that voice that sounds helium-induced back in his school days. Now it has taken him to an HBO special, “The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway,” airing Saturday.
While driving to an editing room to put the final touches on the special, Reubens recalls creating Pee-wee for a sketch he did with The Groundlings, the improv troupe, in 1977.
“The voice came from a play many, many years prior to that,” Reubens says. “I was the second-oldest kid in a repertory production of ‘Life With Father.’ I inadvertently changed from a normal, acceptable voice that would have worked for that show to a cartoony voice that became Pee-wee Herman’s voice.”
Since Reubens had not yet finished editing the special, a review copy was not available at this writing. But it’s based on the “The Pee-wee Herman Show,” which ran 80 performances on Broadway late last year and turned the Stephen Sondheim Theatre into his wacky playhouse. The stage show was based on his 1986-91 Saturday morning TV series “Peewee’s Playhouse.”
It was great fun, and “fun” was his secret word of the day. Each time it was said the audience had to get loud and silly, and it was impossible to sit in that theater and not laugh.
Ultimately silly is what it’s about. There’s pretty much no other way to describe the colorful, zany world that is his playhouse. Pee-wee’s pals show up: Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr) in his purple chaps and Jheri curls; Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart) in her enormous bouffant; King of Cartoons (Lance Roberts) in his regal garb; and Mailman Mike (John Moody), as angry as ever.
Though the show has all of the “Playhouse” TV show trappings, its double entendres give it a more adult sensibility. Pee-wee wears what looks like a wedding band, and a running joke is that it’s his abstinence ring, a nod to his 1991 arrest in a Sarasota, Fla., porn theater.
And therein is the big lesson, Reubens says.
“I feel like, in a certain way, one of the things always attractive to me was to show kids that anything is possible,” he says.