The gang's all here, more or less. From a distance, Paul Reubens looks exactly the same as when many of us first encountered him on his hit Reagan-era Saturday morning kids' show. His fantasy kitsch cabin has been rendered in exacting detail, and puppet master Basil Twist has anthropomorphized all the old objects marvelously. Lynne Marie Stewart is back as Miss Yvonne, and though Laurence Fishburne couldn't be coaxed onstage as Cowboy Curtis, the actors who played Mailman Mike and Jambi the Genie in the original live show are on the scene. The antics are manic, the colors are primary, and many of the best old bits from the hit series have been meticulously recycled. And yet, and yet... the packed playhouse still feels sort of empty. I know you are but what am I?

When I told a friend I was off to finally see "Pee-wee" earlier this week, he rolled his eyes and said, "Better hope you like Pee-wee!" And I do like Pee-wee! The Herman phenomenon—which had its roots in a late-night LA cabaret show in 1981 and Tim Burton's 1985 feature film debut, Pee-wee's Big Adventure—was a breath of fresh, weird air into the mid-80s mainstream media phantasmagoria. The sui generis Pee-wee was, you may recall, all the rage, popping up on Letterman, SNL, the cover of Rolling Stone, and rap songs. And his kids' show was a unique blend of edgy comedy, sophisticated satire, and upbeat absurdity. But I know what my friend meant—a little Pee-wee goes a long way, and what was subtly subversive on national television feels a little flat in the big (frigid!) Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

It's all staged with great energy and professionalism, but Reubens seems to be going through the motions just a little bit, and in certain moments the audience of obsessed fans radiates more electricity than the star. All the old goofy gags are duly dispensed one by one, like candy down a conveyor belt, and the nostalgia-starved crowd gobbles them up with glee. It seems a particularly American thing to pay big bucks to indulge in nostalgia for a TV show/movie franchise, but the crowd gets what they paid for. In other words, if you love Pee-wee, you'll love this. But I merely like Pee-wee, and looking back at some of the TV show's best moments may remind you that you can just as easily enjoy the long-lost TV highlights of your youth on DVD. For me, it's still just an ad-pimping TV show, not some revelatory Proustian madeleine. As Peter De Vries once observed, nostalgia just isn't what it used to be.