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Theater musicals with a difference

Off and Off Off Broadway is the place one turns to for a different sort of musical-theatrical evening. 'Tomfoolery'

For instance, at the Top of the Village Gate, a new revue based on the songs of Tom Lehrer under the title ''Tomfoolery'' has recently opened. It is a pleasant evening if one is willing to suspend political and topical relevancy, for the bulk of the Lehrer songs used here were written around 1960. What was witty, iconoclastic and devastatingly sly then is ever-so-slightly tame and even stuffy today.

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Lehrer the lyricist is not to all tastes. His songs dwell on the morose and macabre. If one's sense of humor tends toward the black, Lehrer is not only up your alley, you may already know all the songs from his albums. The performance tries too often to sell in splashy, show-biz manner songs that Lehrer tossed off with dry restraint.

Once one is used to that, however, much of the evening has a quaint, engaging sparkle. Cameron MacIntosh and Robin Ray have adapted the songs and the the dialogue that strings them together (much of it from the album ''An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer''). Gary Pearle and Mary Kyte have directed the able cast a bit frenetically. That cast includes Joy Franz, MacIntyre Dixon, and Jonathan Hadary, with Donald Corren a beguiling standout in all his moments. 'Miss Julie'

Under the best of circumstances, ''Miss Julie'' is a tough nut to crack in live presentation. The title role must be played by an all-encompassing actress who borders on the mythic.

Giulia Pagano has her share of lovely moments, but they do not add up to that particular compendium of neuroses, passions, and tensions that define this very complex character. Stephen Schnetzer has a good deal of presence, but not the histrionic variety needed to make the servant Jean spring to life. Alma Cuervo makes much of her few moments as the usually underplayed Christine.

Gene Feist's direction here is dutiful, whereas in ''Playing With Fire'' it is less than that. Feist and company miss the mark in startlingly blunt fashion , with some miscasting, some bad casting, and an overall low level of accomplishment that is surprising from a company of this caliber.

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