BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful and well-conceived macabre musical...nontraditional for sure, but imaginative and quirky. For those who embrace artsy, interpretive theatre.
Adding Machine is a new musical playing off-Broadway that comes to New York from Chicago. It's a musical adaption of Elmer Rice's play from 1923 about an accountant named Mr. Zero who lives a completely mundane and generic life and finds himself going insane from the mediocrity of his existence. Sound relatable? Zero completely loses it when he is let go from his job; since the invention of the adding machine, there isn't a need for his work by hand. Zero is a wonderful anti-hero; he is not a sympathetic man, but he inadvertently solicits compassion since his life is just so sad.
I am extremely impressed with the conception of this story. The production's main color palate is gray and black, reiterating the desolate feel of these mediocre lives. The costumes are also gray and loose, not giving any character too much definition. Even the direction feels desperate; there's a heaviness to the movement of these people. And true to the trend of new 21st century musical theatre, Adding Machine uses video projection in its set design.
Adding Machine is respectful of the era in which it takes place and the production itself has a very '20s feel. Even the music is evocative of the time; it's almost vaudevillian, but much darker and more tragic. Daisy, Mr. Zero's co-worker and unrequited love, sings a song about her love for Zero that evokes Chicago without the Fosse. Musically speaking, Adding Machine is remarkable. It's almost an operetta. In the 90 minute intermission-less production there wasn't a single time that the audience applauded, simply because there wasn't a break in which to applaud. The music and story roll together beautifully throughout the entire production. The cast is only 9 people and the orchestra only 3, but the sound produced by these people feels totally full and whole. It's amazing what sounds the intricate harmonies can produce.
Even though I really enjoyed Adding Machine, it is definitely not a musical for the masses. Adding Machine is weird and not in a campy, Rocky Horror way; it's weird in an avant-garde, twisted way. You probably have to have a predisposition for creepy storytelling and also a tolerance for artistic quirks you might not understand. Check it out if you're into new musical theatre or inventive new ways to tell classic stories.
(Adding Machine plays at the Minetta Lane Theatre, in the West Village at 18 Minetta Lane. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm. For tickets call 212.307.4100 or 212.420.8000.)