Theater review: 'Adding Machine: A Musical' at the Odyssey
It’s difficult to imagine a more chimerical challenge than adapting Elmer Rice’s 1923 expressionist play, “The Adding Machine,” as a chamber musical. Not only does Rice’s tragicomic tale of a working-man-turned-murderer have its fair share of technical difficulties, it requires a mind-boggling balance between existentialism and slapstick.
In “Adding Machine: A Musical,” which won the 2008 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, composer Joshua Schmidt and his co-librettist, Jason Loewith, offer up a radiant re-imagining of Rice's masterwork. Unfortunately, despite flashes of genuine creativity, Ron Sossi's staging falls short of the piece’s possibilities.
The ensemble, under the efficient guidance of choreographer Natalie Labellarte and musical director Alan Patrick Kenny, is excellent, but the linchpin of the cast is Clifford Morts as Mr. Zero, the number-crunching functionary who murders his boss, is executed and winds up in a surreally offbeat afterlife. A matter-of-fact everyman, Morts bellows his numbers like a goaded bull in a solidly wrenching performance.
Conversely, the female leads have been somewhat miscast. A wispy Mrs. Zero, Kelly Lester lacks the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard shrewishness requisite to the role, while Christine Horn, who plays Daisy, is far too young and attractive to be convincing as the lovelorn admirer driven to suicide over the paunchy, middle-aged Mr. Zero.
Certain design elements are also problematic. Charles Erven’s set, Adam Blumenthal’s lighting, and Kathryn Poppen's costumes should more playfully delineate the differences between Mr. Zero’s near-totalitarian workplace and the cheesy splendor of the Elysian Fields. Shortcomings aside, however, this is a competent staging of a West Coast premiere, and it’s an opportunity as welcome as it is overdue.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“Adding Machine: A Musical,” Odyssey, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (Except Jan. 23 & Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. only.) $30. (310) 477-2055. www.odysseytheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Photo: Clifford Morts. Credit: Ron Sossi