4th Wall Theatre, Inc.
Theatre on the Edge
Bloomfield, New Jersey
Go, because you never know!
by Kate Swan, Artistic Director on September 16th, 2015

​Hi and welcome to 4th Wall's 2nd blog entry!
Our intention with these articles is to talk about under-produced musicals and plays, why they should be seen, and some of the challenges and pay-offs of producing them. A big part of 4th Wall’s mission is to bring lesser-known works to our audiences, and while we love-love-love doing it, we sometimes struggle with getting an audience to come see shows with titles that are less than familiar. It seems that if a show didn’t run for a long time and/or win awards on Broadway or isn’t based on a well-known movie, a growing number of people would rather stay home and interact with their screens than experiment with the unknown theatre piece. We hope this blog will introduce you to shows that you should make an effort to go see when you have the opportunity!
This month’s underproduced show is ADD1NG MACH1NE: A Musical, composed by Joshua Schmidt, libretto by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt, 2008. It is based on the 1923 play The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice.
The plot: The show’s anti-hero, Mr. Zero, has worked for 25 years as one of dozens of faceless accountants in a large, nameless company. And his wife, Mrs. Zero, is a boring nag. His life is utterly conventional. When the boss fires Mr. Zero to replace him with an adding machine, Zero snaps and kills him. After a trial, Zero is executed. He finds himself in the Elysian Fields, where he gets a second chance at romance with his long-suffering secretary, Daisy Devore. But he can’t handle the freedom of paradise, and he ends up back at another adding machine, one that recycles his soul back into the slavery of the world.
Sounds pretty bleak, right? Pessimistic? Exceedingly so. And yet it is strangely thrilling to watch and listen to. Much like Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd or Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, the score of Adding Machine is dissonant and complicated but highly organized, expressive, and intriguing. Its 3-piece orchestration provides the intimacy of a chamber piece, and it allows the small cast to become part of the instrumentation and underscoring. The score is extremely eclectic as well, including everything from avant garde choral sequences to gospel roof-raisers. The book is beautifully constructed to make Mr. Zero sympathetic in spite of his unbelievably base qualities. (He reminds me of a cross between Willy Loman, Archie Bunker, and Stanley Kowalski.) The other characters, played by four men and four women, are both archetypal and rich, in an Expressionistic style. The writing draws the audience into the darkly comic world of this man’s tragic life and somehow makes his utter mediocrity into a fantastic, worthwhile journey. It is thought-provoking and exciting musical theatre.
Adding Machine was a runaway hit in Chicago in 2007 and won multiple Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle awards for its Off-Broadway run in New York in 2008. Reviewers raved across the board. A few major regional productions followed, and although the show has been of interest to a few university programs, it has largely fallen off the radar now, in spite of its timeliness.
Is this a tough ticket to sell? Maybe. Then again, there might be something very relatable about wanting to kill your boss and end up in paradise. The show also requires major actor-singers to pull off Mr. and Mrs. Zero and six other highly skilled singers (one role is non-singing) to fill out the cast. What a tremendous opportunity for experienced actors, a savvy director, and an interested audience!
If you get a chance to see Adding Machine, you should take it. In its dark world, you may have an enlightening experience.
Go, because you never know!

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