NEW YORK -- George Abbott is not about to go all gooey and sentimental just because he's going to turn 100 next week. The theatrical celebrations began last month and will culminate with an all-star benefit on Broadway Monday night (three days before his actual birthday), and the showman in question has remained dry eyed and tart tongued throughout.

"It's very pleasant, but I certainly never expected anything of the kind," Abbott observes, fielding phone calls in his Rockefeller Center office the morning after winning a special Tony award. "It's a little unjust to somebody who's only 90."

He was proud, however, of his characteristically direct acceptance speech. Angela Lansbury had introduced him as "a man who has blessed us with his wit, style and talent since 1913" -- Abbott has acted in, written, directed, produced or revived more than 120 shows -- and associates like Helen Hayes and Chita Rivera had gushed all over him. Abbott had responded with five blunt sentences, concluding, "I have to confess that I'm just in love with show business." No other winner was half so pithy.

"All these people who thank their mothers, I can't stand it," he declares. "These people who pull out a list, a written list!" It offends his sense of timing, among other things; Abbott is famous for the brisk tempo of such Broadway classics as "The Pajama Game," "Damn Yankees" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." The only time he thanked anyone at an awards ceremony, he relates with a sardonic chuckle, was at Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse recently, when he expressed gratitude to the usher who'd helped him onto the stage.

He uses a cane but doesn't like to accept people's help, "though anybody who's seen me get out of a chair would think I needed it." He tells his wife Joy (his third) not to help him with his coat; it's not "macho." He wears a hearing aid, which he also complains about, though the advent of individual hearing devices in theaters has been a blessing. "It makes things clear as a bell," he announces. "It opens up new plays for me. Like 'Fences'; I couldn't have heard it before."

Thus, without overmuch pampering, Abbott is able to keep current and keep working -- he's just back from a Cleveland revival of the jazzy play "Broadway," which he cowrote and first directed in 1926. He insists that's keeping him ticking. "The challenges fill your life with pleasure," he says. "You wake up in the morning thinking, 'I've got to write that scene.' It's always fun, to work in the theater."

That, however, is as effusive as Mr. Abbott -- as even people who've known him for decades address him -- is prepared to be. He will not, for instance, wring his hands about the current state of American theater. The differences are obvious: "There were more plays on Broadway; I'd produce a couple every year. Sometimes they'd run a couple of years and you'd have two or three going at once." Now, he concedes, "the risks are horrific to face. You can see 3 or 4 million {dollars} go down the drain in a single night ... You gotta have a hit."

But, he adds, "there are more opportunities to be in some branch of the entertainment world -- television, movies. Voice-overs." Abbott chuckles again. "Some people make a good living being the offstage voice."

Nor will he join the preservationists arguing for vintage shows presented just as they were performed in, say, 1937, the year Abbott directed and produced "Room Service" and discovered Butterfly McQueen. He is unapologetic about tampering with his revivals.

"I don't think they should be done the way they were originally done," he declares. "They should be improved. 'On Your Toes' " -- he directed the 1983 revival that opened at the Kennedy Center and moved to Broadway -- "would never have succeeded for a minute if we'd done it the way we did it in the '40s, or whenever." (Actually, it premiered in 1936, but Abbott is airy about dates; anything post-World War I is referred to as happening a few decades ago.)

He made minor changes in "Damn Yankees," which he directed last spring at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse. ("Those regional theaters put on first-class productions.") And in reviving "Broadway" he saw lapses "so obvious I wondered why I hadn't noticed them." The resulting production was "better than the original," he announces. Theater "should change. Like women's clothes."

There are limits, though. "I keep reading in the paper that I'm doing something that I'm not doing at all," Abbott grouses. "What's that play where the man sucks blood? 'Dracula'? A musical based on 'Dracula.' Might be a good idea" -- he looks skeptical behind his glasses -- "but I'm not doing it ... I have some theatrical plans, but you don't talk about them, because so many things have to come together. Always foolish."

And speaking of foolishness, as the honoree might put it, there's Monday's gala, a benefit for the Actors Fund, called "Happy Birthday Mr. Abbott or Night of 100 Years." Every big name on the bill has some connection with George Abbott, from actors like Lillian Gish, Carol Channing, Gwen Verdon and Carol Burnett to collaborators and prote'ge's like Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, and Comden and Green. Mayor Koch will read a proclamation. The producers are hoping against hope to bring down the curtain after a mere three hours.

"If I were an invalid, it'd be nice for people to gather around and show I still have friends," Abbott mutters. But at least, he points out, the producers "haven't asked me to do anything ... I suppose all I have to do is sit and watch."