After a successful run in Los Angeles, The Pee-wee Herman Show has arrived on Broadway, with Phil LaMarr making his Main Stem debut as Cowboy Curtis. No stranger to show business, LaMarr was one of the original cast members on MADtv, has worked frequently on the L.A. stage; done recurring voiceover roles in a variety of animated series including Family Guy; and made much such movies as Pulp Fiction and the upcoming Real Steel with Hugh Jackman. TheaterMania recently spoke with LaMarr about the show.
THEATERMANIA What went through your mind when you heard the show was coming to Broadway?
PHIL LaMARR: We always knew there was a possibility and had people coming from all over to see the production in Los Angeles. As an actor, this is one of the things you hope for one day. To say you performed on Broadway is staggering. I am actually glad we got a chance to do the show before we came to Broadway. It is less nerve-wracking.
TM: What interested you in this role in the first place?
PL: Paul Reubens said to me, I would like you to be Cowboy Curtis, and I said ok! It’s a gift to be involved with this. It’s fun to play someone so happy.
TM: Three of the Broadway cast members — John Moody as Mailman Mike, John Paragon as Jambi the Genie, and Lynne Marie Stewart as Miss Yvonne — have worked with Pee-wee for many years. Did the cast benefit from their experience?
PL: Definitely. It helps ground you. At first, you don’t know how to play this role. We are in a world, today, where you can’t create a character like Pee-wee Herman. They lived in this world when it was created.
TM: What does it feel like following in the footsteps of Laurence Fishburne, who was the original Cowboy Curtis?
PL: Laurence came to the show in Los Angeles, so it was like the passing of the torch.
TM: Paul Reubens has been playing Pee-wee Herman for over 20 years. How is he keeping the character fresh?
PL: Paul always says that he doesn’t think about it. He doesn’t analyze the character. It is coming from instinct, so it is always new. It’s not catalogued. He is trying to make it as fun as possible.
TM: Were you a fan of Pee-wee’s Playhouse when it was first on TV?
PL: No. The Saturday morning television show came on when I was in my latter days of college. I wasn’t smoking pot, so I really didn’t watch it! I got into it when I had kids. My older child and younger child can both sit down and watch it.
TM: What’s your favorite line in the show?
PL: There is one joke that is without a doubt my favorite. There is a scene where Mailman Mike delivers these postcards coming from around the world. Pee-wee receives one from Israel that says: “If you want to know more about my country, just read the Bible.”
TM: What is the most unique item in his playhouse?
PL: That would be the jellybean portrait of Pee-wee. I don’t know how long it will last!
TM: What’s it like being with Paul/Pee-wee outside of the theater?
PL: That’s interesting, since I haven’t been out with him while he’s Pee-wee. We have gone out in Times Square, when he was out of character, and he has not been recognized yet. There is a big difference between Pee-wee and Paul Reubens. Nobody is looking for Paul Reubens.