“Adding Machine: The Musical” Is The “Total” Package

Part of the cast of R-S Theatrics’ “Adding Machine: The Musical” playing at the Gaslight Square Theatre. Photo credit: Autumn Rinaldi

As I told director Chrisina Rios at opening night, I get to check another “never-seen” musical off my bucket list. In fact, if you don’t catch “Adding Machine: The Musical” during this run, you probably won’t get the chance again. It’s not on the must-do list for most theatre groups. I’m glad R-S Theatrics found it on theirs.

I encountered the original Elmer Rice play in college and then have listened to the musical (adapted in 2007) on CD many times. It’s not for everyone with a lot of dissonance in the score and not a very conventional story line, but it makes for fascinating theatre. In a world where everyone is truly a number, Mr. and Mrs. Zero are having marital problems as their 25th anniversary approaches and Mr. Zero expects a big promotion on the anniversary of his job. What does he do? He adds. A willing secretary, Daisy Devore (at least it rhymes with “four”) rattles off numbers and he adds them in his head and transfers them to a ledger. Instead of the promotion, he is dismissed due to the “addition” of an adding machine that’s so simple, a high school girl can operate it. So age and sex discrimination is around in this futuristic?- or at least other-worldly setting.

Reginald Pierre and Chuck Brinkley discuss Mr. Zero’s existence in the afterlife in “Adding Machine: The Musical” at R-S Theatrics. Photo credit: Autumn Rinaldi.

Mr. Zero’s solution to this problem? Kill the boss. So he’s arrested, meets an odd mother-murdering cohort (Shrdlu- rhymes with two?) in jail and is sent to the electric chair. The second act takes place in the Elysian Fields where once again Mr. Zero has the opportunity to take control of his life (or his afterlife) but fails miserably again. As Mr. Zero, Chuck Brinkley turns in a marvelous, befuddled performance. He’s simply stunned that the world doesn’t think the way he does and is confused by simple emotion as well as complex theory.

As his wife, Kimberly D. Sansone is the perfect nagging wife. From the clever opening scene as she goes over the day in bed as he’s trying to sleep to the cocktail party where she’s trying to impress Mr. and Mrs. One and Two, you begin to get an idea why Mr. is the way he is. Antonio Rodriguez continues to impress on St. Louis stages as he gives the most definition to this multi-dimensional character of Shrdlu. In revelation after revelation, he startles us with his ability to almost show, without a word, what Shrdlu is thinking.

Maggie Murphy is a delight as the shy Daisy who is about to come to full bloom. Her confrontations with Zero in this life and after are superb. Reginald Pierre shines as well as the boss and “The Fixer” who ultimately fills us in on how this whole afterlife thing works. A quartet of something similar to a Greek Chorus moves around as well on the small Gaslight Theatre stage filling in the “blanks” and fleshing out characters within the narrative. They include Rachel Hanks, Anna Skidis, Nick Moramarco and Bradley J. Berhmann.

Chuck Brinkley as Mr. Zero and Maggie Murphy as Daisy Devore share a tender moment in “Adding Machine: The Musical” at R-S Theatrics. Photo credit: Autumn Rinaldi.

The music, as I said, is an odd combination of dissonance, some melodic pieces and some recitative. Composed by Joshua Schmidt, who also co-wrote the libretto with Jason Loewith from the original Elmer Rice play, it takes some getting used to but once you get in the rhythm of the piece, it works quite well. The only problem with this production is that a few of the actors had a bit of trouble with the difficult music. It all comes across well, it’s just jarring at times to hear dissonant music combined with, at times, poor execution of that music. But the opening sequence with a cacophony of numbers overlapping from the assembled nine singers is stunning and mesmerizing. Musical director and accompanist Leah Luciano handles the difficult score quite well with assistance from percussionist Devin Lowe.

Even with The Fixer explaining it all for us in this off-beat existential musical, you just have to suspend a bit more disbelief than you do with singing nuns or cute little orphans. As I said, it’s not for everyone but you’re in for a wild ride if you dare to take it. And thanks to adventurous groups like R-S Theatrics, we get to enjoy that ride. Catch “Adding Machine: The Musical” at the Gaslight Square Theatre through September 16th. Contact R-S Theatrics at 314-968-8070 for tickets or more information.

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