Adding Machine

UNREST HOME Hatch gets no comfort from wife Baer.

UNREST HOME Hatch gets no comfort from wife Baer. Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Is it too early to declare Adding Machine the best new musical of 2008? Perhaps, but I’m going to do so anyhow, and if something better comes along, it will be a great year for musicals indeed. Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith’s witty, high-reaching and provocative new work is based on Elmer Rice’s 1923 gimlet-eyed Expressionist classic about the soul rot of conventionality. Its antihero, Mr. Zero (the compelling Hatch), a self-described “regular guy,” is a number cruncher by trade, and the opposite of a free spirit. He is craven, bigoted, sexually repressed and thoroughly incapable of creative thought: a willing cog in the same social machinery that is grinding him to a sandy paste.

Schmidt and Loewith’s adaptation cleaves to the bones of Rice’s play but also fleshes it out in a superbly varied score. Zero’s gossipy termagant of a wife (played by Cyrilla Baer with savage relish and scorn) assails him with shrill, discordant art-song nagging; by contrast, his lovelorn assistant Daisy—in a heartbreaking turn by Amy Warren—expresses her tender affection in a Tin Pan Alley ditty that recalls the bittersweet escapism of Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven. David Cromer’s stylish production, which debuted in Chicago last year, is full of indelible moments: the monotonous drudgery of Zero’s accounting office (which redefines the term “musical numbers”); a prison-cell pas de deux; a dingy umbrella that opens into a glittery firmament of hope. Adding Machine does what Zero literally cannot imagine: It alchemizes mediocrity into excellence.

—Adam Feldman

Minetta Lane Theatre. Music by Joshua Schmidt. Libretto by Jason Loewith and Schmidt. Dir. David Cromer. With Joel Hatch, Cyrilla Baer, Amy Warren. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.