Music by Joseph Schmidt
Libretto by Jason Loewith & Joseph Schmidt
Based on The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice.
4 Stars ****
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to October 29, 2016.
Tues-Sat 7.3opm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm/
Runs 95 mines No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652
Review: William Russell 1 October
Adds up to a musical not to miss
Elmer Rice’s 1923 play The Adding Machine is in part about how Mr Zero, himself an adding machine – he has been clerk in an accounting house for 25 years- is replaced by the real thing, and in part about a tale about the after life which is not what it is expected to be. It was very fashionable to write such plays once upon a time.
This 2007 musical version has a terrific spike jazzy score by Joshua Schmidt as well as a couple of lovely romantic numbers, notably Feel Like Dancin’, while the book and lyrics by Schmidt and Jason Loewith do justice to the source.
The show is a quirky, stimulating and very well performed by a cast who really can sing musically, not always the case with singing actors these days.
Director Josh Seymour and set designer Frankie Bradshaw have set it on a traverse stage, an interesting use of the Finborough’s space which works rather well, except that for the first twenty minutes or so Seymour has the cast sing facing the orchestra and not the audience. The result is that one has no idea what they are singing about, other than that Mrs Zero is a nag, which is both careless and a problem because the words matter.
As the show goes on they stop doing so and it takes flight but only just in time.
The story is simple. Mr Zero lives with a shrew. After 25 years loyal service just as he expects promotion he gets sacked and human adding machine is replaced by a real machine. Driven too far he rebels, murders his boss and is duly executed. So far we have a rooted in reality tale about men and machines which is still very much one for our times. In act two Zero ends up in the Elysian Fields, not where he expected to be, and we are into one of those after life discussion tales the outcome of which is none to cheering. It seems that Heaven is full, souls get recycled and he is going back to earth to live another life for the umpteenth time. Joseph Alessi is a stalwart Zero, Kate Milner-Evans does the full Joan Crawford as his nagging wife, and Joanna Kirkland is charming as the fellow employee who is in love with him.
There is also a stunning turn from Ed Campbell Bird, a murderer who has cut his mother’s throat, who delivers some home truths to Zero about life after death and not necessarily burning in hell. The play and this musical both show demand more resources than the Finborough can provide but Seymour’s production and the set rise to the occasion. The challenge of the playing space has been met yet again. The second act, when the play shuffles off one coat and dons another, for instance takes place in a water lily filled paddling pool and there is a lovely Busby Berkeley moment when we discover just where we are.
This is a splendid revival of a musical with a brain, a plot which sets one thinking, and proves a worthy addition to the Finborough’s admirable list of resuscitated musicals with no chance of ever filing a West End stage.
Mr Zero: Joseph Alessi.
Mrs Zero: Kate Milner-Evans.
Daisy Dorothea Devore: Joanna Kirkland.
Shrdlu: Edd Campbell Bird.
Mr One, the boss, The Fixer, Charles: James Dinsmore.
Mrs One, Mae, Prisoner: Helen Walsh.
Mr Two and Prison Guard: George Rae.
Mrs Two, Betty, Matron: Sue Appleby
Director: Josh Seymour.
Musical Director: Ben Ferguson.
Set & Costume Design: Frankie Bradshaw.
Lighting: Neil Brinkworth.
Sound: Philip Matejtschuk.
Movement Direction: Chi-San Howard