Elmer Rice’s 1923 Expressionist classic The Adding Machine influenced a good deal of 20th-century endeavors (it even has a 1969 film version with Phyllis Diller!), but the prospect of a musical that crams its three-hour abstractions into a distinctive, coherent 90-minute work seems a Herculean task, no? Not for Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith, the creators of Adding Machine, a brave, brilliant re-imagining of Rice’s tale of Man vs. Machine. It centers on the hapless, deadpan Mr. Zero (marvelously played by Joel Hatch), who learns that after a quarter-century as a bookkeeper, he’s getting the boot in favor of advanced technology, sending him on a surreal tour through imprisonment, death, and even afterlife — where Mr. Zero discovers the true nature of his being.
Directed with chilling acuity by David Cromer, who also helmed this production last year in Chicago, Adding Machine gives off an effect a little like being trapped in the coolest ’80s music-video fever dream imaginable. With nods to seminal works like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and lit with a speakeasy smokiness, the work is unsparing in its angst, yet never defeating — especially in the stirring scenes between Mr. Zero and his co-worker/soulmate Daisy (Amy Warren, in a richly emotional, heartbreaking turn), whose unlikely romance suggests a slanted Sondheim. You have to work a bit to fully derive this musical’s pleasures — and many will not want to — but it rattles in your brain long after you’ve left the theater. (Tickets: 212-307-4100 or Ticketmaster.com) A