Monday, November 15, 2010

Theater Review: The Pee-wee Herman Show

The Audience is as Much Fun to Watch as the Show
By Lauren Yarger
Today’s magic word is fun, Pee-wee Herman tells us, but one look around the audience reveals that having fun isn’t much of a secret at The Pee-wee Herman Show, playing a limited Broadway run at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre through Jan. 2.

The mostly baby-boomer-aged audience members laugh, clap, scream and totally enjoy the antics of nerdy, bow-the-wearing, childlike Pee-wee (Paul Reubens), the character created by the actor (who also co-writes with Bill Steinkellner) made popular on television’s “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” which won 22 Emmy awards during its five-year television run in the 1980s. The show also has seen other stage and film renditions.

Loud cheering applause greets each of the visitors to the colorful house (David Korins, design) including Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr), Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart, who reprises her TV role), Sergio (Jesse Garcia), Mailman Mike (John Moody), Bear (Drew Powell), Jambi (John Paragon), King of Cartoons (Lance Roberts) as well as some parts of the house brought to life by eight puppeteers (Basil Twist, puppetry; Chiodo Bros. Productions, Inc., puppet company). They include an overstuffed chair named Chairry (voice by Lexy Fridell who also plays a magic screen and some talking fish and flowers), a talking window, a globe, a clock, a super-sham wipe, a flying pterodactyl and a robot named Conky (Josh Meyers) among others. Ann Closs-Farley costumes the crowd with make-up, hair and wig design by Ve Neill.

If it seems a little outrageous, it is. Think Mr. Rogers on crack and you’ll be somewhere in the neighborhood. Alex Timbers (of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson fame) directs the show, which offers a nominal plot about Pee-wee getting a new computer and a love story between Miss Yvonne and Cowboy Curtis (a role played on the TV show for a while by Laurence Fishburne, if you can believe it), but the thrust of the show is just laughing at Pee-wee and the double-entendre jokes which are silly funny. Even some things that don’t seem all that funny to the uninitiated bring uproarious laughter from the adoring audience, like Pee-wee’s popping some popcorn or letting the air slowly out of a balloon.

Pee-wee plays (no pun intended) at the Sondheim, 124 West 43rd St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200 or 800 432-7250.

Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain
• Sexually charged dialogue is veiled in the script, including a reference to gay marriage.
• Jambi is a genie who grants wishes and who chants to contact the spirit world.
• Pee-wee wears an abstinence ring which is the source of sarcastic humor.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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