It All Adds Up for Joshua Schmidt

by Tom Lee

After a quarter-century working a dead-end accounting job in the stifling environment of a nameless, faceless corporation, Mr. Zero is informed that he will be replaced by a machine—an adding machine, to be precise. He goes postal, and in a fit of rage kills his boss. Tried and found guilty of murder, Zero is executed by hanging and ends up in Elysian Fields, an afterlife limbo where he is assigned to work an adding machine. But his foreman informs him that he's taking up too much space, so Zero's soul is sent back to earth for "reuse."

Those familiar with the plot of Elmer Rice's 1923 expressionist drama The Adding Machine may be surprised that this bleak little fable has been turned into Adding Machine: A Musical, an adaptation that debuted in Illinois at the Next Theatre Company in 2007 and then opened Off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre on February 25, 2008. After rave reviews (the New York Times' Charles Isherwood called it "a brilliant little musical") and high honors (four Lucille Lortel Awards including Best Musical, two Outer Critics Circle Awards including Best Musical and Best Score, and four Obies), Adding Machine is coming to Boston and its composer and co-librettist (with Jason Loewith), Joshua Schmidt, to Harvard.

Schmidt will conduct a March 23 workshop on composing sponsored by the Office for the Arts Learning From Performers program, offering feedback and discussing students' original work. In particular, he is interested in the context out of which a song emerges from the story: What is the aesthetic behind the song? Is it style or genre specific? How does it speak to the moment in a way only music could? Another concept pertains to performance: What motivates an actor to sing, and how is that transition navigated between speech and song?

Anyone interested in the art of adaptation should experience the ongoing journey of Adding Machine, which began in the feverish imagination of Elmer Rice and ends—for now—on the musical palette of Joshua Schmidt. Observers are welcome to attend the workshop on Tuesday, March 23 at 3 pm in the New College Theatre, and students interested in performing their original work should contact program manager Thomas Lee. For tickets to the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Adding Machine at the Boston Center for the Arts March 12-April 10, visit Speakeasy Stage or call 617.933.8600.

[Caption: Brendan McNab as Mr. Zero PHOTO: Mark L. Saperstein]