Adding Machine: A Musical
UQ Schonell Theatre
September 4 – 13 2014
Reviewed by Michelle Bull
Adaptation by Joshua Schmidt. Libretto by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt
Last week I attended Underground Productions’ Australian Premiere of Adding Machine: A Musical at the Schonell Theatre, UQ.
A musical adaptation of Elmer Rice’s 1923 expressionist play, Adding Machine, the musical is a challenging undertaking through which the cast of Underground Productions plummets fearlessly. The score is as difficult as it is surreal.
Adding Machine centres around the devastation of protagonist Mr. Zero when he is replaced by an Adding Machine and ‘let go’ from his job as a Bookkeeper after 25 years dedicated service. A distraught Zero kills his boss in a fit of outrage and consequently, is charged and executed.
This is not a musical that will leave you humming its chorus on the way home, rather my companion and I were left feeling rather pained and exhausted following this show. It is it seems a musical experience more like a contemporary opera, notably poignant, brave and complex but as challenging to the audience and listener as I’m sure it is to the cast.
Not that Adding Machine is a stranger to accolades, as my companion pointed out; it has been awarded multiple Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk awards, and had countless rave reviews.
But this musical is definitely not for everyone. It is refreshing to see a small theatre company tackling something different to the norm, the production obviously cracks the mould of a lot of traditional musical theatre dominating small Australian stages.
The score is the biggest hurdle to pass and is as mechanical as the plot that surrounds it. If you can move past the rhythmic complexity and dissonance, it could be seen almost as a textured nightmarish soundscape, which (from that angle) makes it more digestible. The cacophonous intensity does continuously grate the nerves however, although it is occasionally used to great effect, such as during an office scene in which a chant builds into a polyrhythmic moment that showcases some great ensemble singing and choreography.
The cast itself boasts some strong voices; Chris Kellet in the role of Mr. Zero is the perfect balance of hopeless and hopeful. However frustrating his plight, hints of a fine baritone voice made me yearn for a lyrical moment.
Playing opposite, Gabriella Flowers in the role of wife Mrs. Zero balances the demands of a vocally challenging role with a strong portrayal of the unrelenting socialite. Her soprano flits between ringing and reedy, her unyielding characterisation serving to antagonise her husband and the audience alike.
Taylor Davidson as the lovesick Daisy Devore brings a softer characterisation, her smoky mezzo enjoying some of the more melodic moments.
Mischa Reinthal in multiple roles as the fated Boss, Fixer and Charles is suitably commanding both in voice and physicality, while Louis Peake as Shrdlu adds some comic moments and melodic lines that are welcome changes of pace.
The small ensemble are on the whole strong vocally, although some issues with balance caused a few tuning issues at times. With such a score however, they are to be commended and it is clear Musical Director Benedict Braxton- Smith has put the cast through their paces.
The design elements of the production add a lot of interest and are also worth a mention. A revolving set adds to the mechanical feel of the production and visually mimics the feel of the score.
If I’m completely honest I can’t say I loved this production. While I’m all for theatre that moves beyond traditional conventions (even with some interesting musical moments and strong performers), I have to say I still found Adding Machine indigestible and musically pretentious. Obviously given the accolades the show has received this is not everyone’s opinion but ultimately it’s not for me. Underground Productions is full of talent onstage and off, that much is clear, but next time I’ll take a showtune.