BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Fuming about a Broadway attraction he saw the night before, an older colleague who shall go nameless growled at me, "Do you know anything about this idiotic Pee-wee person?"
Evidently he hadn't a clue about writer-performer Paul Reubens' giddy TV and screen persona from way back when, because my distinguished confrere went ballistic over the "The Pee-wee Herman Show" and even more so regarding the spectators he encountered there.
"Screaming, yelling, jumping up and down, I've never seen anything like it," he sputtered. "They were crazy — just crazy!"
I risk being indiscreet by mentioning this to illustrate the fact that anybody who already isn't familiar with Pee-wee Herman (and loves him) really has little business attending "The Pee-wee Herman Show," which opened Thursday at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
The title totally describes what the event's 90 non-stop minutes dish out — a live version of the Saturday morning "Playhouse" TV show that starred Reubens for five years during the latter 1980s.
So there he is in giggling person, the ageless boy-man Pee-wee, looking ever the same in his little gray suit and red bow tie: Being adorable and silly as always. "I know you are but what am I?"
His spiffy playhouse packs all the familiar features like Chairry, Globey, Mister Window and the Magic Screen in fine form. The amusing story by Reubens and Bill Steinkellner, which involves Pee-wee at last getting a computer (Magic Screen becomes upset), offers an agreeable reason to bring on a lot of the old gang.
The original Miss Yvonne, Lynne Marie Stewart, and the original Jambi the Genie, John Paragon, nicely recreate their characters, plus there's Mailman Mike (John Moody, yet another original player), Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr), Sergio (Jesse Garcia) and Bear (Drew Powell). An explosive cooking episode sees Firefighter (Josh Meyers) come to the rescue.
Of course, camp comments and risqué jokes dot the script, but mostly the production, as lovingly staged by Alex Timbers and faithfully designed by David Korins, evokes lots of surprisingly childish laughter. "I'm glad I don't have to worry about love and all that creepy junk," remarks Pee-wee.
From its Pledge of Allegiance opening to a typically moonstruck ending, "The Pee-wee Herman Show" is certain to blast 20-and-30-somethings back to their youth for their very first taste of nostalgia, complete with a "Penny" cartoon in the middle. Newcomers to the Pee-wee cult are likely to be dumbfounded by it all, but fans of Reubens' whimsical artistry should expect a lot of dandy fun — infinity.
Yes, indeed, there was much screaming and mildly rowdy behavior amongst the audience, but what can you do when the magic word for the day comes up so darned often?
"The Pee-wee Herman Show" continues through Jan. 2 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.peewee.com/broadway.