Ellen Gray: Pee-wee takes Broadway show to HBO

The HBO show was filmed at Manhattan's Stephen Sondheim Theater.
The HBO show was filmed at Manhattan's Stephen Sondheim Theater.
Posted: March 17, 2011

THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW ON BROADWAY. 10 p.m. Saturday, HBO.

NOT MANY Broadway shows begin with the Pledge of Allegiance, but then so few star Pee-wee Herman.

Paul Reubens, the artist known as Pee-wee, returns Saturday night to HBO, the place where his bow-tied character's TV career launched in another special three decades ago, with "The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway."

Filmed this winter during the show's limited run at Manhattan's Stephen Sondheim Theater, it's a happy mix of childlike wonder and mildly adult humor - too mild for "Two and a Half Men," but maybe too adult for Saturday mornings - that allows Reubens to be timeless and yet topical.

But again, only mildly so.

"Hey, my mail's already been opened!" exclaims the star to Mailman Mike at one point.

"It makes us all safer, Pee-wee," replies Mailman Mike.

Gay marriage gets a nod, and so, perhaps, does the legal unpleasantness that led to Reuben's absence from our living rooms for several years. (Blink, and I promise, you'll miss it altogether.)

In a satellite interview with TV critics in January, Reubens/Pee-wee was asked what changes had occurred in his show over 30 years.

"Well, I think you'd probably notice I got like way older, heh-heh," he replied.

"There's a lot of similarities. The new show is really inspired 100 percent by the old show. What happened in between is I did the stage show originally at the Roxy Theater, which is where we filmed it for Home Box Office [mumbling] years ago. And then, from there, I had a CBS television series that was greatly inspired by that stage production.

"And so when I went to rewrite the show, I added all the characters from the CBS show. So the original production that Home Box Office aired did not include Chairy, my talking chair, and Globey, my talking globe, and, you know, all the inanimate objects that talk . . . So I added a lot of the characters like that, but the plot is the same," he said.

"There's a love story. And I have a wish to fly in the show, and that's pretty much the plot. The New York Times said it was thin on plot. And they were right. But, you know, plot's not all it's cracked up to be. It really isn't, unless you're doing a five-part miniseries. Then you need plot," he said, in an apparent allusion to another HBO project this month, "Mildred Pierce."

Laurence Fishburne, who played the original Cowboy Curtis, "wasn't available because he's got that 'CSI' show," Reubens said.

"So an incredible actor named Phil LaMarr from 'Futurama' and many, many, many different things is playing Cowboy Curtis. And I got a great photo of the two of them together on opening night. And Laurence loved the show. And S. Epatha Merkerson ["Law & Order"], who played Reba the Mail Lady on the CBS show, came here in New York to see the show," he said.

One key difference between his first HBO show and this involves presentation. Only one live presentation was filmed, then the show was filmed without an audience.

"We pulled the cameras up on the stage. And we have angles. You're going to see angles during the live performance of a show, that you have never seen in anything like this," he said.

Remembering Giraldo

"He was not the guy in the club that you thought would die," "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart says in "Give It Up for Greg Giraldo" (11:30 p.m. tomorrow, Comedy Central), a tribute to the comic, a Comedy Central fixture who was just 44 when he died last September of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

Stewart's just one of Giraldo's famous friends to weigh in on the standup. Conan O'Brien, Jim Gaffigan, Sarah Silverman, Lewis Black and Colin Quinn all have fond and funny memories.

Thanks to plenty of footage from his performances and from interviews with Giraldo himself, it feels like a fitting tribute to a man who probably would have wanted to leave even this audience laughing. *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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