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Pee-wee Reopens the Playhouse

The ultimate nerd is back.

Pee-wee Herman, with his red bow tie and too-tight gray suit, sashays back to his theater roots on Jan. 12 with The Pee-wee Herman Show. The 90-minute production plays for a month at Los Angeles' Club Nokia.

"I toyed with the idea of bringing Pee-wee back a couple of years ago, but I'm a lazy guy at heart," says Paul Reubens, whose high-pitched alter ego clearly still has a fan base. A debut date last November was scrapped when demand for tickets prompted a move to a larger theater.

Pee-wee vaulted to fame in the mid-'80s after HBO filmed Reubens' Pee-wee stage show. That led to feature films and a hit Saturday morning kids' TV show, Pee-wee's Playhouse.

Reubens, 57, stepped out of the spotlight after a 1991 arrest for indecent exposure at a Florida adult theater. He later returned to acting, taking non-Pee-wee roles.

Reubens has a clear goal for his Pee-wee revival. "I'd like to do another Pee-wee movie with Tim Burton," who directed 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure, which memorably features Herman calming irate bikers by dancing to Tequila.

That movie may have to wait. Though Reubens says he isn't keen on extending the new stage show, there's interest from places as disparate as Broadway theaters and the Sydney Opera House. "It's all exciting, but I have to take it in increments," he says. "And to be honest, I always really saw Pee-wee in Vegas."

Scott Sanders, producer of the new Pee-wee Herman Show, says "there's enthusiasm for this character's return, probably in large part from those college kids who would wake up hung over to watch his kids' show. They now have children of their own."

The production centers on Pee-wee's dream of flight. "It's a Broadway musical-caliber production with multimedia effects," says Sanders.

Returning Pee-wee to the stage is a no-brainer, says Variety TV editor Michael Schneider. "You don't need a mass audience for a stage run, just a few folks into nostalgia."

As for Reubens' 1991 debacle, "people are able to separate Paul from Pee-wee. That character remains unique."

Reubens balks when asked to explain Pee-wee's appeal ("That takes the fun out of it"), then reconsiders.

"People came to love him, perhaps because he's a dumb dork," he says. "Who else could tell a bunch of rowdy bikers to shut up, and then wind up becoming their friends?"

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