Anthony Quinn has been quoted as objecting strenuously to the description of ''Zorba'' as a revival. Said Mr. Quinn: ''I am Zorba.'' Having created the part in the memorable film version of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel and having brought Zorba to Broadway after a lengthy tour, the star of the revival - excuse me, arrival - may be justified in his claim. Zorba is perhaps on his way to becoming for Mr. Quinn what Tevye was to the late Zero Mostel, the King of Siam to Yul Brynner, Dolly Levi to Carol Channing, and Professor Higgins to Rex Harrison.
''Zorba'' is not, however, a legendary musical. It is an interesting and often entertaining example of the post-Rodgers-and-Hammerstein lyric theater, particularly as influenced by Harold Prince and company. Writing in ''The World of Musical Comedy,'' Stanley Green remarked:
'' 'Zorba' (late 1968) reunited Kander and Ebb with their 'Cabaret' producer-director, Harold Prince. The musicalization of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel, however, seemed more akin to 'Fiddler on the Roof' with its larger-than-life hero and its stageful of earthy, ethnic types. . . . But the Greek peasants were a colder and more menacing lot than 'Fiddler's' open-hearted villagers, and the work was too spare and gloomy to win more than a season's run. Kander and Ebb moved with apparent ease to their Cretan surroundings, bringing to it fire, strength, humor ('No Boom-Boom'), and tenderness ('Happy Birthday' was both a childhood recollection and a threnody), colored by instrumentation that made the score sound as true to bouzouki as it did to Broadway. . . .''
Dissolve to 1983 and the Broadway Theatre. Here is Mr. Quinn giving a rambunctious, comically zestful, unabashedly virile performance as the wily Athenian who elects to educate a young Greek-American visitor in the ways of life and women. The star's growling baritone, physical vitality, and gritty charm are admirably suited to the hedonistic Zorba. Although he did not originate it on Broadway (the first Zorba was Herschel Bernardi), Mr. Quinn has placed his own unique stamp on Kazantzakis's burly rascal.