When Pee-wee Herman walks onto the Stephen Sondheim stage, the ushers might as well start handing out bowls of Cocoa Puffs. The audience — mostly adults, all enthusiastic fans of the bow-tied man-child — is instantly transported back to Saturday mornings circa 1980-something.
They’re no longer kids wearing footie pajamas glued to the TV, but they all gleefully scream when the day’s secret word is said by Pee-wee’s unsuspecting pals who visit his Technicolor home. Designed by David Korins and looking every bit as magical as the set of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” the CBS show that made Herman, aka Paul Reubens, a star, the stage embraces old and new friends alike.
And boy, is Pee-wee still popular. The 90-minute show, directed by Alex Timbers, is a reunion of favorite characters — Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart, still the most beautiful woman in Puppetland), Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr), and the King of Cartoons (Lance Roberts) all stop by while the Playhouse is retrofitted for the 21st century. That doesn’t sit well with Pee-wee’s roommates — Chairry, Magic Screen, Conky and Globey in particular, loveable puppets who are afraid of becoming obsolete when their friend finally connects to the Web. It’s a neat plotline that questions the audience’s modern-day over- connectedness while draping them in goofy, mostly wholesome nostalgia (Reubens doesn’t shy away from making allusions to his own sordid past).
Did we mention it’s fun? It is — oodles of it, in fact. “Fun” is the secret word, after all.
If you go
‘The Pee-wee Herman Show’
Through Jan. 2
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 W. 43rd St.