Actor Paul Reubens is bringing his trademark character, Pee-wee Herman, and his playhouse full of friends back to their roots. Unfortunately, unless you live in Southern California, you may not be able to see them.
The Pee-wee Herman Show was a Los Angeles stage show in the early 1980s. It resembled the Saturday morning kids show that followed but the original concept was more of an adult parody of classic children’s programming. Following appearances on late-night TV, Reubens’ Pee-wee character became so popular that he was given his own family-friendly feature film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
The success of the movie paved the way for the Pee-wee’s Playhouse TV series. Budgeted at $325,000 an episode, the show garnered 22 Emmy Awards during its five year run. Aside from Reubens, the series features Phil Hartman, Laurence Fishburne, S. Epatha Merkerson, Shirley Stoler, George McGrath, Alison Mork, John Paragon, William Marshall, Suzanne Kent, Lynne Marie Stewart, Kevin Carlson, Gregory Harrison, Ric Heitzman, Diane Yang, and Anna Seidman. CBS asked Reubens to do a sixth season but he declined.
The network pulled reruns of the series off the air in 1991 following Reubens pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure in an adult theater. Following a media frenzy, the actor shelved his Pee-wee character and played other roles. Pee-wee has made occasional appearances in later years as the series’ cult-status grew with both children and adults.
Reubens has talked about bringing Pee-wee back to movie theaters for awhile but, before that happens, Pee-wee’s returning to the stage.
The Pee-wee Herman Show will run for a 17 show engagement, beginning November 8th, at Hollywood’s Music Box at the Fonda Theater. The show will feature many of the cast and crew from the original stage and TV shows. The plot will be very similar to the original stage show in which Pee-wee is granted a wish that will let him fly but he gives it away and eventually regrets the decision.
The story has been updated to include new songs as well as characters that didn’t appear until the Saturday morning TV show. Reubens told the LA Times, “I felt that doing this show so many years later and having the TV show in between — people are going to ask, ‘Where’s the talking chair?’ So I’ve added characters from the TV series to the show.”
One long-running character that won’t be returning is Captain Carl. The salty sea captain was played by the late Hartman. Reubens shared, “I didn’t want to be looking at someone else playing Phil’s part.”
Reubens hopes that the stage show will help lead a resurgence of all things Pee-wee. He said, “Honestly, I have a movie script that’s based on my CBS TV series, and I thought this would be a great way to get that made.”
The original stage show was filmed and aired on HBO. Hopefully this newest incarnation will be recorded as well so that fans outside of the Los Angeles area will be able to return to the playhouse as well.
Of the new production, the actor says, “It’s time. My Pee-wee suit and red bow tie are at the ready — and this is proof that white shoes are cool past Labor Day.”
Image courtesy Herman World.