×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Adding Machine: A Chamber Musical

If the German expressionist drama "Spring Awakening" can be a musical, why not the American expressionist drama "The Adding Machine"? Small but ambitious Next Theater on Chicago's North Shore delivers a genuinely intriguing "chamber musical" adaptation in which Joshua Schmidt's rich and varied music enhances the emotional intensity and odd stylistic juxtapositions of Elmer Rice's 1923 play.

With:
Mr. Zero - Joel Hatch Mrs. Zero - Cyrilla Baer Miss Devore - Amy Warren Shrdlu - Ian Westerfer

If the German expressionist drama “Spring Awakening” can be a musical, why not the American expressionist drama “The Adding Machine”? Small but ambitious Next Theater on Chicago’s North Shore delivers a genuinely intriguing “chamber musical” adaptation in which Joshua Schmidt’s rich and varied music enhances the emotional intensity and odd stylistic juxtapositions of Elmer Rice’s 1923 play.

The music here can’t be compared in any way to Duncan Sheik’s vibrant score for Broadway’s “Spring Awakening,” which put contemporary pop into the mouths of 19th century German teenagers; “The Adding Machine” still comes off like a period piece with greatest appeal to an intellectual audience.

Orchestra consists of two pianos and additional percussion. The music is wide-ranging yet consistent. There’s melodrama throughout and the occasional Gershwin-like melody, as well as a rhythmic repetition to the libretto and singing style that brings to mind a Gertrude Stein/Virgil Thomson opera. The variety suits Rice’s play exceptionally well, since it, too, moves freely from straightforward to abstract.

Schmidt’s surprise achievement in “The Adding Machine” — and it’s quite striking — is that the music feels a completely natural part of the work, not the slightest bit tacked on.

Play centers on hapless Mr. Zero (Joel Hatch), stuck in a bad marriage and a rote job calculating numbers. When after 25 years he’s replaced to make way for the titular new technology, Zero promptly kills his boss. Rice then follows him to prison and from there to the Elysian Fields after his execution.

Part socialist rant, part existential contemplation, the play has always been something of an oddity, produced mostly in academic settings. This adaptation, on which Schmidt collaborated with Next a.d. Jason Loewith, puts the blame squarely on Mr. Zero’s shoulders. The possibility of love exists in the affection Zero’s co-worker Miss Devore (Amy Warren) feels for him, but he’s incapable of accepting it. In Hatch’s highly capable, unsentimental performance, this antihero comes off very much as a man who deserves his fate.

Directed with flair and focus by David Cromer (“Orson’s Shadow”), the production looks great, with Matthew York’s angular sets and Keith Parham’s lighting creating the necessary feeling of depth with limited space. Jail scene, in which each prisoner has an individual cell he can carry around with him, presents a terrific combination of theme, whimsy and small-stage practicality.

But the story here remains the score. Schmidt is an accomplished sound designer, and he clearly understands how music can support character and bring out underlying drama. From the opening sequence, in which Mrs. Zero (Cyrilla Baer) contemptuously berates her husband, the music draws us into a world of rich but not sympathetic characters whose passionate inner lives are constantly frustrated by the dreariness of their surroundings.

The Adding Machine: A Chamber Musical

Next Theater, Evanston, Ill.; 134 seats; $40 top

Production: A Next Theater presentation of a musical in one act with music by Joshua Schmidt, book and lyrics by Jason Loewith and Schmidt, based on the play by Elmer Rice. Directed by David Cromer. Musical direction, Jeremy Ramey.

Creative: Set, Matthew J. York; costumes, Kristine Knanishu; lighting, Keith Parham; sound, Jeff Dublinske, Joshua Schmidt; production stage manager, Richard Lundy. Opened, reviewed Feb. 4, 2007. Runs through Feb. 25. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Mr. Zero - Joel Hatch Mrs. Zero - Cyrilla Baer Miss Devore - Amy Warren Shrdlu - Ian WesterferWith: Michael Vieau, Steve Welsh, Rosalind Hurwitz, Kevin D. Mayes, Toni Inzeo.

More Legit

  • Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys

    Listen: Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys of Broadway

    For anyone who doubts that being a Broadway actor can be grueling, let Bryan Cranston set you straight. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a cumulative effect of fatigue that happens on the Broadway schedule that no amount of sleep the night before is going to wash away,” the Emmy and Tony-winning actor [...]

  • Jeff Daniels Variety Broadway to Kill

    How 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Beat the Odds to Deliver a Broadway Smash

    Jeff Daniels slumps into a chair in the Shubert Theatre, grasping an oversize Starbucks and looking bone-crushingly exhausted. His eyelids are heavy, and he seems like a man in desperate need of rest. It’s easy to understand why. It’s late March, and Daniels has just given his 100th Broadway performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town attorney [...]

  • ZZ Top, Caesars Entertainment Team on

    ZZ Top, Caesars Team for Jukebox Musical 'Sharp Dressed Man' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top and Caesars Entertainment are developing “Sharp Dressed Man,” a jukebox musical set to open next year in Las Vegas featuring the band’s greatest hits. Members Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are all serving as executive producers. “Sharp Dressed Man” is described as an “outrageous, [...]

  • Williamstown Theater Festival 2016 season

    Marisa Tomei Starring in Broadway Revival of 'The Rose Tattoo'

    Marisa Tomei will star in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” The Oscar-winning actress will play Serafina, a part previously performed by the likes of Maureen Stapleton and Anna Magnani. It’s also a role that Tomei is familiar with, having starred in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production in 2016. “The Rose Tattoo” [...]

  • White Pearl review

    London Theater Review: 'White Pearl'

    Playwright Anchuli Felicia King dismantles the Asian market in this misfiring satire at London’s Royal Court Theatre. “White Pearl” makes a case that those seeking to make inroads into the Far East, perceiving a new El Dorado, are no better that colonial conquistadors of an earlier age — and entirely unequipped to understand the specifics [...]

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content