* Twenty-seven years since the musical ``Cabaret'' made Broadway history, John Kander and Fred Ebb's ``old chum'' of a show is being reborn in London - as a harsh, biting piece stripped of anything resembling Broadway sheen.

Sam Mendes's new production, which opened Dec. 9 at Covent Garden's tiny Donmar Warehouse, follows local stagings of Rodgers and Hammerstein's ``Carousel'' and Stephen Sondheim's ``Sweeney Todd'' as London's latest second look at a Broadway stalwart.

While this musical set in pre-Hitler Berlin always transcended Broadway glitz, Mendes hopes his pared-down version - 14 in the cast, not the original 32 - will give its blistering tunes their due.

He regards Hal Prince's original conception as ``a minor masterpiece'' dependent upon ``an unholy marriage, as it were, between Germany and Broadway.'' And while he admired Bob Fosse's 1972 film, Mendes is out for something different - ``a laying bare of what's at the core of the piece.''

In a role immortalized by Liza Minnelli's 1972 Academy Award-winning turn, Jane Horrocks plays expatriate English entertainer Sally Bowles, and Alan Cumming inherits Joel Grey's celebrated part as the Kit Kat Klub's Emcee, the leering embodiment of a decadent age. Adam Godley is Cliff, the American writer through whose eyes the story is told.

Whereas the 1987 Broadway revival of ``Cabaret'' cost millions, the Donmar production is costing a scant $195,000.

Cameron Mackintosh, the British producer behind ``Phantom of the Opera,'' ``Cats'' and the current revival of ``Carousel,'' has put up $23,000. He gets first rights to transfer the production for a commercial run when it ends its limited engagement March 12.

Just 28, the Cambridge-educated Mendes has established himself as one of the most adventurous British directors. Last winter he had a success at the Donmar with his reworking of Stephen Sondheim's chamber musical, ``Assassins,'' which had received mixed reviews in its earlier off-Broadway debut.

This summer, Mendes staged Brian Friel's 1980 play, ``Translations,'' as a timeless study in political and sexual identity. That production has been discussed for a West End and New York run next year.

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