There’s something rather appropriate about the UK premiere of Adding Machine: A Musical opening in the same week as a new production of Floyd Collins – it was casting director Josh Seymour who helped with the latter at the Southwark Playhouse four years ago and has now turned his own directorial attentions to the former. And you can see he has a type – 1920s Americana filtered through an Expressionist lens and the kind of Modernist score that revels in being called an “anti-musical”, pushing the boundaries of conventional musical theatre as it does.
Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt’s adaptation of the Elmer Rice play The Adding Machine maintains much of the original story – after 25 years of constant if undistinguished service, book-keeper Mr Zero finds his role is to be replaced by an adding machine. And as we’re in the world of the anti-musical, he reacts by killing his boss, is hanged, and goes off to the Elysian Fields where he finds that heaven may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, especially when you’re a miserable murderer. Cue jazz hands!
What Schmidt cleverly does with his score though is to keep us constantly off-balance, never letting the audience sink into complacent comfort as he shifts from gnawing operatics to polyphonic choral work to Gershwin-esque standards and back and around again. You may not come away humming these tunes but they’re remarkably well-integrated into the musical. It is undoubtedly a challenging listen but it has a strangely compelling intensity under Ben Ferguson’s musical direction and his electronically-inclined three-piece band.
And it has been astutely cast too. Joseph Alessi may not display quite the vocal precision such a complex score demands but the force of his acting more than compensates as Zero’s existence is challenged for all – or any – meaning. Kate Milner-Evans is vocally stunning as his harshly nagging wife and as a deliberate counterpoint, Joanna Kirkland’s Daisy is sweetness personified, as befits the potential redemption that she represents.
There’s also powerful work from Edd Campbell Bird as the striking Shrdlu, with his own unique take on (after)life by the side of the pool that cleverly emerges from Frankie Bradshaw’s design. It is a clever production of a clever musical that is not afraid to make its audience work.
Review by Ian Foster
Ever feel like killing your boss?
After 25 long years spent adding figures in the same soul-crushing job, Mr Zero suddenly finds himself replaced by a machine. For the first time in his life, Zero takes his destiny into his own hands. The consequences set him on a path through this world and beyond, offering him one last chance for love, life and redemption.
Take an extraordinary journey with Mr Zero in this stirring and hilariously dark anti-musical as it asks us to consider the true price of a human soul, told through Joshua Schmidt’s haunting score, inspired by gospel, opera, jazz and rock and roll.
The UK premiere of Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt’s multi-award winning musical adaptation of Elmer Rice’s groundbreaking 1923 play is directed by Josh Seymour, named Best Director at the 2016 Off West End Theatre Awards for One Arm at Southwark Playhouse.
Adding Machine: A Musical won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical and Outstanding New Score.
Directed by Josh Seymour
Set and Costume Design by Frankie Bradshaw
Lighting by Neill Brinkworth
Sound by Philip Matejtschuk
Musical Direction by Ben Ferguson
Movement Direction by Chi-San Howard
Casting by Leon Kay
Production Management by Alex Firth
Presented by Alex Turner in association with SDWC Productions.
Joseph Alessi (Mr Zero), Kate Milner-Evans (Mrs Zero), Joanna Kirkland (Daisy Dorothea Devore) and Edd Campbell Bird (Shrdlu), with James Dinsmore (Mr One and as cast), Helen Walsh (Mrs One and as cast), George Rae (Mr Two and as cast), and Sue Appleby (Mrs Two and as cast).
Adding Machine: A Musical
Wednesday, 28th September to Saturday, 22nd October 2016
118 Finborough Road
London, SW10 9ED