Various Artists

Adding Machine: A Musical

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Elmer Rice's 1923 play The Adding Machine, written under the auspices of the progressive Theater Guild, was an Expressionist statement about the deadening effects of the Industrial Revolution that anticipated similar works such as George Orwell's 1984 by decades. It is largely forgotten, however, and the musical adaptation Adding Machine, with music by Joshua Schmidt and a libretto by Schmidt and Jason Loewith, takes it in the direction of a sort of downtown modern opera. Schmidt's eclectic score draws on such influences as the Brecht/Weill musicals of the late ‘20s, such as The Threepenny Opera, and the musical theater work of Marc Blitzstein, notably The Cradle Will Rock. Using only three musicians, pianist Andy Boroson, percussionist Brad "Gorilla" Carbone, and synthesizer player Timothy Splain, Schmidt employs atonality one minute and complicated vocal harmonies the next, even mixing in elements of ‘20s jazz-pop, rock, and gospel. The sound is anything but the usual musical theater score, but then the show tells the abstract story of Mr. Zero, who loses his job adding up numbers to automation after 25 years on the job, murders his boss, goes to jail and is executed, enters the afterlife, and eventually is unwillingly reincarnated to do it all over again. Mr. Zero (Joel Hatch) hasn't a chance, which is obvious enough from his name, but that doesn't keep him from railing against his fate to his wife, Mrs. Zero (Cyrilla Baer) and his infatuated co-worker Daisy (Ann Warren), who kills herself to join him, however temporarily, in some version of heaven. These performers and the rest of the cast successfully navigate Schmidt's often challenging music while portraying the characters with conviction as well as deliberate artificiality. The musical is as daring as the play was, and like it belongs off-Broadway, if not in the repertoire of a courageous opera company.

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