a kate west review
written by Paul Reubens & Bill Steinkellner (John Paragon)
directed by Alex Timbers
at Club Nokia/LALive, 800 W. Olympic Blvd. LA 90015
contact 213-765-7000, www.clubnokia.com or www.ticketmaster.com
running January 12 - February 7
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls! He's back! The 80's icon man-child known as Pee-wee Herman (a.k.a. Paul Reubens) is settling in for a limited time only in the land of La-La, downtown Los Angeles. Catch him now at LA Live's Club Nokia in the newly renovated downtown (a la the Disneyfication of New York's Times Square).
Originally created by Paul Reubens as a character for the world-renowned Groundlings Theatre, Pee-wee Herman became a cult-like figure after Tim Burton's surprise hit "Pee-wee's Big Adventure". His tailored grey suit, white shoes, crew-cut hair and red bowtie made nerdom, if not cool, then hipper for not being cool. "Pee-wee's Playhouse" had a nice little run on television and won a few Emmys, appealing to children and adults alike. What really catapulted him into fame was the endless repetition of lines (and that unmistakable laugh) from the show and movie by enraptured fans, who weren't able to tell you exactly what they loved, except that Pee-wee made them laugh. Hard.
The current show brings back characters from the Playhouse, such as Miss Yvonne (Lynne Stewart), the most beautiful woman in Puppetland, Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr, replacing the original buckaroo Laurence Fishburne), Mailman Mike (John Moody), Chairry (now Lori Alan) and Jambi the Genie (John Paragon). Surrounded by a cacophony of relics from 1950's t.v. shows, Pee-wee merrily jabbers on to both neighbors and inanimate objects, like the chair, the clock, the globe, fish, flowers, a mechanical robot and a flying Pterodactyl. Addressing the audience, he pulls us in right away, announcing the secret word, our only role having to scream loudly every time a cast member uses it. Each entrance is more exciting than the last (except for the grand entrance by the man himself), the crowd going wild at every memorable line and reference. Notably missing from the very first cast is, of course, the late Phil Hartman, a great friend of Reubens.
In this episode, based on the HBO special of the same name, Pee-wee finds out a secret about Miss Yvonne and very much wanting a wish of his own, selflessly gives it away so she can have her heart's desire. His friends rally to give him a happy ending, gently poking fun at each other and gleefully citing pop cultural references all the while (and sing and dance!) Interspersed with a cartoon, fan mail and the endlessly fascinating old time film about how not to be a Mr. Bungle (you'll have to see it to believe it), everyone has a grand old time, especially the audience. There is an out-of-character scene with a Bear (Drew Powell) which is almost jarring, but even that Reubens pulls off effortlessly in the end.
The real success behind this character is his ability to interest small children and adults of every age with simple plots and morals, peppered with more sophisticated innuendoes. The campy reverence for the nostalgic era of children's shows is quite endearing. While making fun of himself in a way, Pee-wee remains an innocent, truly joyful in his performance, but winking at the crowd all the while. Not an easy feat. It's a big show with big heart and Reubens and cast (especially Lynne Stewart, Phil LaMarr and John Paragon) do have a terrific time up on stage so it's almost impossible not to be swept away in the feverish acclaim. Unless you're already familiar with his work, it is difficult to explain the cult status. Personal indiscretions aside (get over it already), this guy is often underrated as a versatile, multi-talented and sometimes brilliant character actor and comedian. But hopefully this show will produce more Pee-wee awareness. Give him a chance folks, he (his laughter anyway) is infectious. Hope you remember your Pledge of Allegiance. I know you are, but what am I?
Anyone else have "Tequila" stuck in his/her head?
Paul Reubens (Pee-wee)
John Moody (Mailman Mike)
Drew Powell (Bear)
John Paragon (Jambi)
Jesse Garcia (Sergio)
Phil LaMarr (Cowboy Curtis)
Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne)
Lance Roberts (King of Cartoons)
Josh Myers (Firefighter)
Lori Alan, Josh Myers, John Paragon, Drew Powell, Lance Roberts (Voices)
Watch the original Mr. Bungle here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s7X5-Drctk