A pair of stage successes being given skillful revivals. Joel Grey in `Cabaret'; `Of Mice and Men' recalls troubled '30s

Cabaret Musical by Joe Masteroff (based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood), John Kander (music), and Fred Ebb (lyrics). Directed by Harold Prince. Choreography by Ron Field. Starring Joel Grey. By one of those unintended ironies, the opening of ``Cabaret,'' at the Imperial Theatre, coincided with the worst stock-market decline in Wall Street history. So when Joel Grey, as the repulsive little emcee of Berlin's Kit Kat Klub, urged his imaginary audience to ``leave your troubles outside, in here all is beautiful,'' the sardonic invitation had an uncomfortably relevant ring. Granting that ``Cabaret'' commemorates a socio-political rather than a financial debacle, there can be varieties of discomfort.

When librettist Joe Masteroff, composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb created ``Cabaret,'' they scrapped most of ``I Am a Camera,'' the play John Van Druten had based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin stories. The new version combined bawdy musical cartoon and troubled romance.

According to Mr. Ebb, the show was about ``the decadence, vulgarity, and indifference of Berlin in the 1930s'' and ``the emergence of Nazism in Germany.'' From the moment the emcee delivers his suggestive greetings under the huge overhead mirror reflecting players and spectators, ``Cabaret'' plunges the audience into a world of escapist fantasy and personal crisis. The emcee is the leering supermarionette, the living phantom of this dark comic opera. A slightly heavier-set Joel Grey proves, if anything, a more grotesquely sinister emcee than he was two decades ago. This is a maturely bravura performance.

While irresponsible Sally Bowles (Alyson Reed) and would-be writer Clifford Bradshaw (Gregg Edelman) are pursuing the affair Mr. Masteroff has devised for them, the emcee, his all-girl band, and his dancers are giving the Kit Kat customers their money's worth of sleazy vaudeville and single-innuendo gags. Fascinating though it is as a model of accomplished Broadway showmanship, there must always be something discomforting about ``Cabaret.'' Up to a point the gentler aspects of side-by-side stories are supplied by Fra"ulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, acted and sung with distinctive appeal by Regina Resnik and Werner Klemperer.

``Cabaret'' in 1987 appears faithful to its original inspiration and impulse. Miss Reed performs effectively as Sally, and strong-voiced Mr. Edelman does what he can with the rather colorless Clifford. The cast includes David Staller as the emerging Nazi with whom Clifford ultimately breaks and Nora Mae Lyng as a prostitute who challenges Fra"ulein Schneider's rooming-house rules.

Besides retaining Mr. Grey and most of the original collaborative team - director Harold Prince, choreographer Ron Field, and costumer Patricia Zipprodt - the revival's intricately mobile settings have been based by David Chapman on the late Boris Aronson's scenic design. The lighting is by Marc B. Weiss. The score, with its Brecht-Weill influences, receives a resounding performance under the conductorship of Donald Chan. Of Mice and Men Play by John Steinbeck. Directed by Arthur Storch.

Writing about John Steinbeck's ``Of Mice and Men'' in ``The Best Plays of 1937-38,'' critic Burns Mantle observed: ``No other spoken text had been as freely profane as this one since `What Price Glory?' was a success, and no other drama had offered so thrilling a dramatic climax in the concluding tragedy of the Steinbeck story....

``There were auditors who recoiled from its ruddy boldness, and were free-spoken in their resentment. But the greater number accepted and approved the drama for its obvious sincerities and its appealing exposure of the tragedy that is found in human loneliness.''

The profanities that shocked some 1930s playgoers seem mild by comparison in these times of all-out verbal permissiveness. It is what Mantle called ``the tragedy found in human loneliness'' that retains its impact and is duly reflected in the ``50th anniversary'' production, which opens the Roundabout Theatre Company's 22nd season.

The relationship between George (John Savage) and the muscular but simple-minded Lennie (Jay Patterson) challenges the loneliness common to the migrant field workers who populate Steinbeck's sensationally climaxed drama. Repeating an oft-rehearsed assurance, George tells Lennie that their refuge from the loneliness of ``guys like us that work on ranches'' is that they have each other and that they also have a future. That future lies in the dream of assembling the stake necessary to buy their own little farm. ``Of Mice and Men'' tells how the dream is shattered.

Steinbeck individualizes his theme of loneliness in several of the characters George and Lennie encounter at the northern California ranch where they have hired on. Candy (Edward Seamon), the crippled bunkhouse caretaker, cherishes the aged dog to which the other hands strenuously object. Crooks (Roger Robinson), the black stableman, is barred from the bunkhouse. Even the doomed female character known only as Curley's Wife (Jane Fleiss), the sole woman on the premises, seems motivated by something beyond the urge to be sexually provocative.

The revival staged by Arthur Storch reinforces the drama's underlying theme. A wiry Mr. Savage invests George with the kindness, quick intelligence, and passing impatience of the role, while Mr. Patterson embodies Lennie's childish backwardness, dangerous physical strength, and propensity to panic. Other principals include Mark Metcalf as foreman Slim, Clifford Fetters as the contemptible Curley, and Joseph Warren as The Boss. As lighted by Judy Rasmuson, Victor A. Becker's scenery (especially the dark landscape of the opening scene) captures the play's mood of isolation. Cecelia Eller designed the costumes.

``Of Mice and Men'' is scheduled to run through Nov. 29.

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