Pee-wee Herman Gets Wired on Sondheim’s New Stage: John Simon

Paul Reubens and Lynne-Marie Stewart in "The Pee-wee Herman Show" in New York. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Hartman Group PR via Bloomberg

Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Broadway’s silliest, most immature character is starring at a theater named for its ultimate sophisticate.

Paul Reubens’s “The Pee-wee Herman Show” at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre is a lavish production (players, puppets and props rampaging amid David Korins’s scenery) that runs for 90 proudly idiotic minutes. It features Reubens’s frozen face and chirpy voice dispensing antediluvian jokes and cringe-making puns.

Typical scenes concern Pee-wee’s love affair with Chairry, the female armchair our boy sits on, embraces and is hugged by; Jambi, the bodiless swami’s head that lives in a box; and Pterri the Pterodactyl, who flits about arousing Pee-wee’s yearning to fly. The plot, such as it is, hinges on the possible wiring of the Playhouse for Pee-wee’s computer, which turns out to be a very bad idea indeed.

Directed by Alex Timbers (of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”), the show offers no straight man to Pee-wee’s silliness: humans, puppets and animated furniture are equally, irremediably clownish.

I don’t know what is more retrograde: a 58-year-old frozen-faced buffoon or the antique antics rehashed by the script.

About the kindest thing one can say is: It is at least a harmless kind of idiocy.

At 124 W. 43rd St. Information: +1-212-239-6200;

Rating: *1/2

What the Stars Mean:
****       Do Not Miss
***        Excellent
**         Good
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(John Simon is the New York drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: John Simon in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at