Arts / Entertainment

‘Next to Normal’ tackles the subject of mental illness

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Jennifer Toohey (left) and Lisa Miller (right) appeared on the Buffalo Review Feb. 20 to discuss their production of the Tony Award winning musical “Next to Normal.”

Christopher Baggs
thebuffaloreview@gmail.com

(Williamsville, N.Y.) – Western New York theatre goers were treated to a local production of the hit Broadway play “Next To Normal” last month.

The show, which has won three Tony Awards and received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama, was on display at the Meeting House in the Village of Williamsville from Feb. 3 through Feb. 26.

The show was produced by Pared Down Productions, a new theater company that was founded in 2015. According to the groups’s website, Pared Down focuses on “producing small-scale plays and musicals accessible to everyone.”

Jennifer Toohey, an assistant professor in the Theatre Department at Buffalo State, played the lead role of Diana, a woman struggling with bipolar disorder. The story details the effect Diana’s illness has on the people around her.

Toohey and Lisa Noelle Miller, who directed the show, appeared on the Buffalo Review Feb. 20 to discuss “Next to Normal.”

“It’s an all-American family that is not really so typical” said Miller. “It really brings it (mental illness) out to the mainstream. There’s a lot of relatable content and situations.”

“I think people look at this (disorder) as a sign of weakness. It’s not just breaking a bone,” said Toohey. “There are so many struggles to treating it.”

According to Toohey, the show has an impact on both the people who see it and those involved in production.

The show is a musical, which can have an effect on the subject matter and the message.

“Setting it to music kind of makes it easier to take it in. It’s still very much in your face but they get to sing about their troubles, which is nice,” said Miller. “We’ve taken this non-traditional subject matter and made it very current and relatable. It doesn’t matter what your experience with mental illness is.”

“I can’t speak highly enough about the show. We have to be really vulnerable on this show. I can’t speak highly enough about the cast,” said Toohey. “I hope this show is cathartic for people. There is a light on the other side of the darkness.”

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