Previews for the Chicago hit — a modernist musical whose score jabs and shrieks, suggesting a cry of the human heart — began Feb. 8 at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village.
A Jeff winner as Best New Musical in Chicago, the 90-minute intermissionless Adding Machine features a score by Joshua Schmidt and a libretto by Jason Loewith and Schmidt. David Cromer directs, as he did the world premiere at Next Theatre Company in Evanston, IL, in 2007. The spare, dark spaces created by Cromer include a gray bedroom, a lifeless parlor, an airless accounting office, a death-row jailhouse and — in a surprise explosion of light — a place many people dream of.
Joining the trio of Cyrilla Baer as Mrs. Zero, Joel Hatch as Mr. Zero and Amy Warren as Daisy (all reprising their acclaimed performances from the original production) are Joe Farrell as Shrdlu, Jeff Still in multiple roles as the Boss, Fixer and Charles, Adinah Alexander as Mrs. Two, Niffer Clarke as Mrs. One, Roger E. DeWitt as Mr. Two and Daniel Marcus as Mr. One.
"Darkly comic and heartbreakingly beautiful, Adding Machine, a musical adaptation of Elmer Rice's incendiary 1923 play, tells the story of Mr. Zero, who after 25 years of service to his company is replaced by a mechanical adding machine," according to production notes. "In a vengeful rage, he murders his boss. An eclectic score gives passionate and memorable voice to this stylish and stylized production, which follows Zero's journey to the afterlife in the Elysian Fields where he is met with one last chance for romance and redemption."
The score is brazenly non-commercial and has been embraced by industry folk for perfectly capturing the grinding joylessness of its stuck, loveless, workaday characters. *
What's the musical flavor or shape of the show? Co-librettist Loewith told Playbill.com, "Each of the musical's seven scenes features its own musical vocabulary, though words, melodic fragments, phrases of music and even whole pieces repeat often to create a fully-conceived dramatic arc. An academic might call our work a '21st century reimagining of early-20th century expressionism.' It's not at all a standard 'Broadway book musical,' as works like Carousel or Oklahoma! — but it's not like the contemporary opera experiments of John Adams or Phillip Glass, either. We hope that we've taken full advantage of American musical idiom without becoming collagist. If the Chicago production was any indication, we managed to put together a coherent work of music-theatre, even if it's hard to put a label on it!"
How is the New York production different than the Chicago one?
"We learned a lot in Chicago about what worked and what needed tightening," Loewith said. "With the enormous help of director David Cromer, we did some judicious trimming of the 'book' and added more music to the final two scenes. I think if we've succeeded, the audience will identify even more fully with Zero's journey, and find themselves asking just what constitutes personal freedom in 21st century America."
The authors "wanted to reflect the experimental nature of Rice's play, which veers from naturalism to expressionism to proto-absurdism from scene to scene," Loewith said.
Is it experimental? Loewith explained, "Josh's music uses Rice's own expressionist techniques as a jumping-off point. The music becomes self-referential in the way Rice's play experiments with clashing styles. So sure, it's experimental. We set out not to break the rules, but [be] blissfully ignorant of them. I don't think Josh has ever seen a traditional musical, and I'd never written one."
Adding Machine is produced Off-Broadway by Scott Morfee, Tom Wirtshafter and Margaret Cotter and features scenic design by Takeshi Kata, lighting design by Keith Parham, costume design by Kristine Knanishu, sound design by Tony Smolenski, projection design by Peter Flaherty, properties design by Michele Spadaro and musical direction by J. Oconer Navarro.
Schmidt (composer/co-librettist) is a Milwaukee-based composer/sound designer. His work has been featured at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Writers Theatre In Glencoe, Next Theatre, Northlight Theatre and Seanachai Theatre Company (Chicago), Alley Theatre (Houston), Kennedy Center and Ford’s Theatre (Washington DC), Public Theater (associate design), Jean Cocteau Rep and Genesius Theatre Guild (both NYC), South Coast Repertory, American Players Theatre (Spring Green), Madison Rep and UW-Madison (Madison), Milwaukee Rep, Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Shakespeare and elsewhere. He is a recipient of an NEA/TCG Career Development Program Award and was named one of nine emerging designers in Entertainment/Design Magazine in 2004. He has received four Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and two awards for his composition/sound design work in Chicago.
Loewith (co-librettist) is a Jeff and After Dark award-winning producer, director and writer. As artistic director of Chicago's Next Theatre Company since 2002, he has directed the area premieres of plays by John Patrick Shanley, Christopher Durang, Lynn Nottage, Paula Vogel and many others. Prior to the Next, he spent two years as artistic administrator at Chicago's Court Theatre and five years as general manager/dramaturg at Off Broadway's Classic Stage Company. He serves on advisory boards for New York's Red Bull Theatre and Synapse Productions and Philadelphia's Flashpoint Theater. Other directing credits include his own play Bert Brecht Before the House Un-American Activities Committee for HERE, the New York International Fringe Festival and workshops of his own adaptations at CSC.
The Minetta Lane Theatre, one block south of West 3rd Street and east of Sixth Avenue, is located at 18 Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village.
The performance schedule for Adding Machine is Tuesday-Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 3 & 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM. Tickets are $65 and are available by calling the Minetta Lane Theatre box office at (212) 420-8000 or Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.
A limited number of $25 student rush tickets will be available in person at the box office on the day of the performance, subject to availability.
For more information visit www.addingmachineamusical.com.