Relief From Cornball Retro! Adding Machine Is a Calculated Triumph

Adding Machine’s creators are also effortlessly capable of delivering a delightful ballad of romantic yearning—the deliberately showbizzy “I’d Rather Watch You.” The marvelous Amy Warren as Zero’s thwarted love interest Daisy doesn’t play the number for easy, ironic laughs. To the contrary, she’s exactly right. She’s sincere and she’s beautiful.

The score has at its pulse a simplicity and directness that fuses period Tin Pan Alley with the near operatic and, briefly, with gospel. The Kurt Weill influence is apt—Elmer Rice’s 1937 Street Scene was set to music by Weill, with lyrics by Langston Hughes, in 1947. As a director, Mr. Cromer is an impure Brechtian—a freer spirit than Brecht; his neo-expressionist style here belongs to film noir. (The excellent lighting design is by Keith Parham; the photo-realistic set design is by Takeshi Kata.)

Adding Machine’s final scenes are off the wall. Elmer Rice, reversing the moral rules, has his murderer-hero end up in heaven! “I was wond’rin’—/ Wond’rin’ what it’d be like/ Here,” the bewildered Zero announces amid the plastic Elysian Fields onstage at the Minetta Lane. “Now that I’m here I’m still wond’rin’…”

It’s a wildly funny conceit—the best of black humor. The damned end up in paradise and nobody cares! Rice—the proselytizing socialist—is saying that all are re-created equal in heaven. The catch is that the tragic bigot Zero sees it as hell. “Don’t tell me you want to stay here with a lot of lowlifes and bums … and sinners?” he asks bitterly.

Or, as the poor suicide Daisy responds when Zero rejects her even in paradise. “I might as well be alive!”

The production—which runs for 90 intermission-less minutes—rushes the last two crowded scenes a bit, as if anxious to tie up the loose ends of Rice’s preachy message about us all being nuttily recycled through machines. That doesn’t bother me. One of the reasons I love the show is that it hasn’t been recycled by anything—least of all by the pervasive mechanical musical.

On or Off Broadway, there’s nothing remotely like Adding Machine. Its creators and superb cast have done great work, while its committed lead producers—Scott Morfee, Tom Wirtshafter and Margaret Cotter—have produced what must surely be the best new musical of the season, by a mile.

Relief From Cornball Retro! Adding Machine Is a Calculated Triumph