The master of the silent art is back on Broadway; Marcel Marceau on Broadway Pantomime entertainment created by and starring Marcel Marceau.
Bip and his creator, Marcel Marceau, are back on Broadway for the first time since 1975. And high time, too! In the intervening years the incomparable French mime and his alter ego have toured the world and have visited North America on a number of occasions. They have been seen in films and on television. Now they are paying a six-week call on New Yorkers at the Belasco Theatre. ''Marcel Marceau on Broadway'' is a treat not to be missed.
From his traveling repertoire of more than 50 ''Style Pantomimes'' and ''Bip Pantomimes,'' Marceau chose a baker's dozen to launch his current New York season. Divided almost evenly between the two principal sectors of his wordless tales and sketches, they include several New York City and one American premiere in which Bip guest-stars with a traveling circus. He is the kind of star who brings down the house. Naturellement.
While the intricately blended elements of Marceau's art defy exact categorization, it is possible to make some broad distinctions. There are, for instance, pieces like ''The Dice Players,'' in which a crafty dicer wins, loses, and tricks his victims. ''The Amusement Park'' teems with diversified attractions and diversions, from the oompah band to the giant swings. ''The Public Garden'' is populated with familiar characters - the dog walker, the dandy, the policeman, and so forth all the way to my two favorites, the gabby, knitting gossip and her glum, nodding companion.
Occasionally, as in ''The Pickpocket's Nightmare,'' Marceau calls on his two assistants, Jonathan Lambert and Jean-Jerome Raclot, plus masking props, to create a surrealistic pantomime in which the terrorized dreamer supposes all sorts of ghastly elongations and truncations of arms and legs. On the other hand , it requires only a single panel behind which Bip, in ''Bip Plays David and Goliath,'' can appear on one side as the lyric sheepherder and on the other as the huge Philistine. This is still one of Marceau's most delightful conceptions.
For psychological drama, nothing in the repertoire surpasses the self-imprisoning torment of ''The Maskmaker,'' in which the maker struggles to remove a grimacing image. ''The Angel,'' being seen by New York audiences for the first time, soars with seraphic lyricism as Marceau portrays a heavenly creature's flight, descent into lower and lower regions, and final exultant recovery of altitude.
Besides the American premiere of ''Bip, Great Star of a Traveling Circus,'' the opening bill at the Belasco includes two works not previously seen here. In ''Bip Travels by Train,'' Bip does everything from sharing his lunch to almost losing his ticket; in ''Bip and the Dating Service,'' the hopeful client is propelled into a social whirl beyond his wildest dreams. Marceau has also revived ''Bip as a Soldier'' (last performed in 1965), which proceeds from Chaplinesque recruithood to battlefront tragedy. This moving evocation of war's horrors closed the initial program.
As always in a Marceau stage adventure - and that is what he shares with his audiences - the most lasting impression is one of universal humanity. The mood extends from the ridiculous to the sublime, with an endless projection of intermediate bold and subtle shadings. Bip is Marceau's Everyman, fumbling, stumbling, always striving. The bright red flower in his battered top hat is like Cyrano's white plume. It is uncrushable and enduring.
Welcome, Marceau! Bienvenue, Bip!