Studio Theatre's Adding Machine: A Musical

Here’s my favorite thing about the Studio Theatre. Occasionally there is a new play or musical running on or off-Broadway, and I’m really excited about it. But time or money interferes, and I can’t get up to New York to see it. Chances are, within a year or two, Studio will produce that play or musical.

So it happened with Adding Machine: A Musical by Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith. I very much liked the original play, The Adding Machine, by Elmer Rice, when I read it while studying Expressionism. When I heard there was a new musical based on that play, I had to see it.

And this musical is a very successful adaptation. It follows the plot and script of the play quite closely. The plays and musical tell the story of Mr. Zero, who is, essentially, a living cog. He is a cog in the machine of his job. He works as an accountant, in America in the 1920’s. He has worked the same job for 25 years. The boss comes to talk to him. But instead of the expected promotion, the Boss fires Mr. Zero, replacing him with an adding machine. Mr. Zero snaps and kills his boss, is tried and sentenced, and executed. He ends up in the Elysian Fields, finally finding peace at an adding machine, where he would be content to add numbers all day long. But he’s told he has to return to Earth for another go around.

Writers Schmidt and Loewith follow directly the letter of the original play, but they make a fascinating shift with the work. Rice’s play is an anti-technology piece, distrusting and skeptical. Mr. Zero is the anti-hero, but he is also a victim. He is a cog in the machinery of employment, but also a cog in the machinery of life. Schmidt and Loewith don’t let Mr. Zero get off so easily. The piece becomes less about the threat of technology and more about the complacency of Mr. Zero. He is also at fault for choosing the life he chooses, for choosing not to advance, for being afraid to reach higher, for being afraid to love.

It’s a smart and thought-provoking adaptation, given a fine mounting by Studio Theatre, with David Benoit giving a credible performance as our everyman, Mr. Zero. Though set in the past, it’s a thoroughly modern musical, with a musical score that will not be to the tastes of the old-fashioned, but which completely fits in the dystopian world of the story.

3 stars
Through November 15


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