BY DAVID NG, Los Angeles Times Service
``I've put part of him away for a long time, but part of him has always been here with me,'' the actor says from his home in Los Angeles. ``I think it will be like riding a bike -- which is not a bad analogy for Pee-wee, by the way.''
After a hiatus of almost 20 years, Reubens will play Pee-wee in a new stage show in Hollywood. The production, The Pee-wee Herman Show, set to run Nov. 19-29, is a re-imagined version of the actor's original production that began at the Groundlings Theatre in 1981. It played at the Roxy in L.A.for five months in the early 1980s and helped bring Pee-wee national recognition, including an HBO special and the 1985 film Pee-wee's Big Adventure, directed by Tim Burton.
The show will feature the same story line as the original: Pee-wee, a nerdy man-child with a colorful menagerie of anthropomorphic friends, is granted a wish to learn to fly but gives it away, much to his eventual regret. Reubens says he has revised parts of the story to include new songs as well as characters from his popular CBS television series, Pee-wee's Playhouse.
Among the characters familiar from the TV series that will appear on stage will be Pee-wee's talking chair, Chairry, and his friend Pterri, the pterodactyl.
``It has a lot of new material and a lot of old material,'' Reubens says. ``I felt that doing this show so many years later and having the TV show in between -- people are going to ask, `Where's the talking chair?' So I've added characters from the TV series to the show.''
Pee-wee's Playhouse aired on CBS from 1986-91 and helped broaden Pee-wee's appeal among children.
Reubens, who is also one of the show's producers, says he hopes the show will lead to an even bigger resurgence in all things Pee-wee.
Since the heyday of the Pee-wee franchise, Reubens' career has been a roller-coaster ride of legal fiascoes and tentative comeback attempts. In 1991, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure after he was arrested in Florida in an adult movie theater. In 2002, he was charged with possessing child pornography because of images in his art collection, ultimately pleading guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity charge in 2004 in exchange for a lighter sentence.
``I don't think those events have an appropriate place in discussion of the new show,'' Reubens says.
The actor has spent the last 10 years mostly in guest-star roles on television, such as his recent stint on NBC's 30 Rock as a buffoonish member of a royal European family. He has also acted in a handful of prestigious indie films, including Blow.
Reubens, 56, says that returning to Pee-wee after so long has given him ample time for reflection.
``It is ironic to be on this end of it all and to be redoing it,'' he says. ``I've never said how old Pee-wee is. People attach their own age to him. I never decided myself.
``I'm glad people will be 20 to 30 feet away from me on stage,'' he says. ``I'm trying to work out a system where people with bad vision sit in front. I think it will work.''