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.

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