Holiday Triumphs: The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

peeweeshow.jpgNo one’s ever asked me for life advice because, I mean, c’mon. But if they did, I’d say this: Spend your money on experiences, not things.

Things break. Things fade. Things fail. But experiences can not be replaced and can not be taken from you. I’ve regretted purchases of things (more than I care to admit), but I’ve never been sorry I spent money on an experience. Even if the experience itself wasn’t what I expected, or fell short in some way, I can always take something instructive from it. And when an experience meets or exceeds your expectations, there’s nothing better. Whether it’s comedy or music or theater or a vacation, if you can afford the money and the time, do it.

Still, when I heard that Pee-Wee Herman was doing a Broadway show, I debated whether I should spend the dough. Broadway ain’t cheap, to the point where I had to really consider if the money would be worth it. What pushed me over the edge was 1) a number of friends/relatives who went and said it was great, and 2) The Baby.

As I wrote about not too long ago, The Baby loves Pee-Wee. One night earlier this year, for reasons I can’t remember, I thought she might like to watch Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and I cued it up on Netflix Instant. She got as far as the bathtub fight with Francis and said “I don’t like this movie!” So I turned it off, cursing myself for showing it to her too soon, thinking I’d poisoned her against Pee-Wee forever. But the very next day, much to my surprise, she asked to watch it. This time, she sat all the way through and laughed like

For the next month, she wanted to watch nothing but Pee-Wee. I showed her clips of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse on TV and she loved that, too. One of my brothers bought her the entire series on DVD for her birthday, and she’s been watching them incessantly. My cousin got her a Pee-Wee action figure from 1988 on eBay, still in the package. It killed me to open it up, but I did so anyway, and she hasn’t slept without it ever since.

So considering The Baby’s obsession with Pee-Wee, and considering that Paul Reubens has never done a Broadway show before and is unlikely to do one again, I bit the bullet and pulled the trigger on a pair of tickets for a Sunday matinee. I was fully aware that disaster was an option. After all, The Baby is only 4 years old, and it’s always possible she could have a meltdown in the theater, or have to go to the bathroom 800 times, or just be bored. But I’ve been on a winning streak of late (brag) and I counted on that streak to continue for this outing.

I didn’t tell The Baby about the show beforehand, because she has no concept of time and you can’t tell her you’re going to something in a day or a week or a month. If she hears about some upcoming event, she will assume–and demand–that said event start NOW. So all I told her was that we were going on a super special “mission” to The City. (She likes to pretend to be a spy when we go out. So do I.) The only clue she had was me suggesting she bring her Pee-Wee action figure along for the trip.

It was raining and intensely windy this day. All I had to protect us was an umbrella too big for her little hands but which she insisted on carrying anyway. As we walked up Seventh Avenue, the wind took a hold of her umbrella and blew it up the sidewalk at a furious pace. We ran after it, and only a stranger walking in the opposite direction saved it from flying out into traffic.

I wanted to take her to a diner off of Times Square I’d always gone to with my dad, but the weather meant walking around for too long was a really bad idea. So I decided we’d just get lunch at the Heartland Brewery across the street from the theater. We scurried down the block and hid under the restaurant’s awning, shaking off the rain. As we did so I pointed to the marquee across the street.

“Hey, who’s that?” I asked her. She, of course, yelled ecstatically that it was Pee-Wee. That’s when I told her that we were going to see Pee-Wee do an extra special show on a stage, not a movie or a TV show, but in person.

“You mean he’s gonna be real?” she asked. When I said “yes,” she literally jumped up and down with excitement.

During lunch, I instructed her on the basic rules of theater going. “You can laugh and you can clap,” I told her, “but you can’t talk. If you have to tell daddy something, you have to whisper it. And once the show starts, you can’t leave your seat. So if you have go to the bathroom, make sure to let me know before the show starts.” She listened to and completely understood all of these instructions, which is an extremely rare occurrence.

Once inside the theater, I was genuinely surprised/delighted by the large age range of the attendees. People much older than me and people much younger than me. Kids coming with their parents, older than The Baby but clearly not being dragged along–I mean, kids 8 to 18 who were just as excited as my kid to be there, bringing their own Pee-Wee dolls and tin foil balls. I also saw one grown man dressed exactly like Pee-Wee, which wouldn’t have been that weird except that he had this air about him of wanting very much to be noticed as The Guy Who Dresses Like Pee-Wee. If it’s possible to stand still conspicuously, he was doing it.

The Baby sat in her seat and eagerly awaited curtain time. As I sat next to her and checked my phone, she angrily insisted I had to watch the stage. “The show’s gonna start!” she yelled, and literally pulled my face toward the still-silent stage.

Ironically, after I worried about her bathroom needs, it was me who had to make an emergency run. With six minutes until the show started, I made the executive decision to go to the men’s room to forestall any discomfort during the performance. The Baby made me promise we wouldn’t miss anything, so I literally ran down the stairs to the lounge area, carrying her under one arm, took care of business, and ran back up to our seats. Elapsed time: 90 seconds.

When the lights went down and Pee-Wee came on stage, I knew the tickets were worth every penny. I’ve never seen The Baby with a look of such pure, delirious joy. “It’s Pee-Wee!” she squealed, because she could barely believe it. She held out her action figure throughout the show so “Pee-Wee” could watch Pee-Wee. I wish I could have taken pictures of her, and yet, I didn’t need to, because I will never forget the look on her face at that moment.

She lagged at times, as would any four-year-old forced to sit in a dark theater for 90 minutes, and she was even scared at one part of the show when the lights went out in Pee-Wee’s playhouse. But overall, she had an amazing time, and I am so grateful I could share that with her. And since I bought the tickets, I guess I’m grateful to me. Thanks, me! Oh, and Pee-Wee for doing the show, I guess.

The next morning, on the way to school, she said apropos of nothing. “I can’t believe we saw Pee-Wee!” She told all her friends and teachers about the show, but they had little idea of what she was talking about. “They didn’t know Pee-Wee,” she said, with the annoyed sigh of someone who’s a little too hip for the room.

It’s the best Christmas gift I’ve ever given to anyone: an experience that she’ll remember for a lifetime. And also, the ability to feel vaguely superior to her classmates.