Pee-wee is back, and on Broadway
Pee-wee Herman returns, to the delight of fans who grew up watching the show.
This story was originally covered by PRI's Studio360. For more, listen to the audio above.
What if someone could call out "mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho" and make Pee-wee's Playhouse live again? Paul Reubens, the show's creator and star, has done just that. Twenty years after the show retired, Pee-wee Herman and the playhouse gang have been resurrected in a Broadway play. Sudio360's Kurt Andersen, who describes the show as "psychedelic, surrealistic, smart, campy slapstick," wants to know why Reubens is doing it, especially after refusing to "do" Pee-wee for all these years.
"This is so perverse and odd, but I wanted to see what impact I had, how did it work?" says Reubens. "Pee-wee's Playhouse" was Reubens' effort to shape children into successful adults. He told Studio 360, "I had a job to do, and it was to inform kids on lots of different topics and matters and morality, and how to be creative, and how to be a non-conformist, and I was really curious to see how we did, how everybody growed up."
The original viewers, now all "growed up," have responded to Pee-wee's return with an enthusiasm that brings Reubens to tears. He describes how an audience responded to seeing the playhouse, just as it had appeared on their childhood television screens: "When the curtain opened, there was a collective gasp that I could feel the air being sucked off the stage." Reubens continues, "I've never felt anything like that before, and I would get so emotional -- I'm getting emotional just right now."
Looking back on his time as Pee-wee, Reubens explains how natural the character was to create and maintain. "It was never anything belabored. It was always effortless and every, every single aspect of anything to do with Pee-wee Herman -- from merchandizing decisions, career decisions, writing, everything... it's all gut related." Maybe Pee-wee's newest lesson for kids is to trust their guts.
PRI's Peabody Award-winning "Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen" from WNYC is public radio's smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy -- so let "Studio 360" steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.