Adding Machine – World Premiere Recording

track listing

1. Prelude
2. Something to Be Proud Of
3. Harmony, Not Discord
4. Office Reverie
5. Movin’ Up/In Numbers
6. In Numbers (Reprise)
7. I’d Rather Watch You
8. The Party
9. Zero’s Confession
10. Ham and Eggs!
11. Didn’t We?
12. I Was a Fool
13. The Gospel According to Shrdlu
14. Death March
15. A Pleasant Place
16. Shrdlu’s Blues
17. Daisy’s Confession
18. I’d Rather Watch You (Reprise)
19. Freedom!
20. Freedom! (Reprise)
21. The Music of The Machine
Some musical cast recordings are easy to listen to. You pop them onto a turntable or turn up the volume on your iPod, and instantly you’re transported into a toe-tapping musical universe of soft-shoe and Broadway pastiche. Some aren’t.

The world premiere recording of Adding Machine is one of the latter. A musical adaptation by Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith of the 1920s expressionist play The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice, Adding Machine, a maniacal story of murder and reincarnation, centers around Mr. Zero, an unlikely protagonist working at an unnamed factory.

Mr. Zero is laid off by his employer on the anniversary of his twenty-fifth year on the job. Laborers at the company are increasingly being replaced by mechanical adding machines. “A high-school girl can operate them,” his boss tells him. But Mr. Zero – already forlorn from an unsatisfying marriage with the braying Mrs. Zero – isn’t satisfied and murders him with a file in a heat of passion.

Once in the lush afterlife, a beautiful Elysian Field to be specific, Mr. Zero’s office romance with his secretary Daisy Devore ignites after she commits suicide in order to be with him. But Mr. Zero soon realizes that the circumstances of life after death aren’t as simple as he could have imagined. Rather than being one of the “type that gets a little better each time,” of Mr. Zero it is said that, “If ever there were a soul in the world labeled ‘slave,’ it’s [his].”

It’s dispiriting subject matter for a musical, and the music of the piece fits the dark overarching mood. The text of the musical is essentially Rice’s original dialogue, adapted by Schmidt and Loewith to adapt to the demands of musical theatre. The recording preserves ample passages of the text, almost taking the form of a radio drama in its rather robust 74-minute representation of the 90-minute piece. Instead of taking the traditional scene-song format of most musicals, much of Adding Machine consists of scenes with overlapping chorus material, punctuated by several full-out numbers throughout.

This isn’t a show-stopping musical, and fittingly there are rarely any show-stopping musical moments within it. Only one song – Daisy’s standout I’d Rather Watch You – could hold its own outside of the context of the show. Obviously Schmidt has carefully considered the tone of his piece, and his execution, as preserved here, proves that he was spot-on. Like the lives – and afterlives – of his characters, the score is messy and muddled, but always in a brilliantly cold, calculating fashion. The early song Harmony, Not Discord begins with voices counting, quickly followed by the tapping of a hi-hat, and builds to an overlapping cacophonous symphony of monotony. While the women of the office obsess over numbers, the men pine after beer and women. Schmidt builds masterfully the mechanical quality of the story throughout with his unique compositional voice.

The score is performed entirely by three musicians, with Andy Boroson on piano, Brad Carbone playing Percussion, and Timothy Splain taking on synthesizer duties. Persistent percussive themes and synth touches throughout add a faux futuristic twist that seems utterly appropriate. Besides for Amy Warren, who provides Daisy with a knowing charm, other standouts in the cast of nine are Cyrilla Baer as the brash, uncompromising Mrs. Zero and Joel Hatch, who instills the murderous Mr. Zero with a gruff, everyman quality. It’s fitting that the voices here are mostly unpolished. Warren, one of the piece’s most redemptive characters, also has the most appealing singing voice, but what the others lack in vocal ability they make up for in characterization.

Many will try to claim that Joshua Schmidt’s score is atonal; instead it provides just the right dissonant touches to ensure that Adding Machine maintains its dramatic integrity. It’s not easy listening by any means – making it difficult to recommend to those unwilling to prick up their ears in full – but repeated listens bring out the discordant musical brilliance of the piece. The themes, still with us today as technology and outsourcing continue to threaten American jobs, make this piece as relevant as ever. As the finale, The Music of The Machine, suggests, “We must each believe our lives will all add up to something in the end.” Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith have succeeded in dramatizing this struggle within us all, distilled through the brash, unwieldy world of Mr. Zero – no easy task for a musical.

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