Buffalo show challenged “normal”

Pared Down Productions presented Next to Normal

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. – Pared Down Productions, a theatre company founded in 2015 by Niagara University alumnus Nathan Andrew Miller, presented its newest production, Next to Normal, at the Meeting House in Williamsville Feb. 3-26.

Pared Down Productions produces small shows with minimal technical elements, which allows it increased focus on the core ideas and meanings of shows. Next to Normal was the company’s third show and second musical. Its first production was The Last Five Years, which took place at the Alleyway Theater in Buffalo in March 2016. The company went on to produce Shakespeare’s The Tempest with an all female cast in the fall, providing a different kind of glance at a well-known classical piece.

The company tackles a variety of issues with its work, and Next to Normal was no exception. The show examined a family trying to navigate through such issues as mental illness, drug use and coping with loss. These serious ideas were brought into light through a poignant musical score and a compelling storyline.

Pared Down Productions’ cast consisted of Jennifer Toohey, Jon May, Sarah Mullen, Jordan Louis Fischer, Nathan Andrew Miller, Nick Lama and Joe Spahn. Under Lisa Noelle Miller’s direction (and Don Jenczka’s musical direction), the cast brought the thought-provoking and relevant script to life.

Kayla McSorley, a Niagara University junior, attended one of the performances and was greatly impressed by the high quality of the production despite being in a tiny space.

“Pared Down Productions has a reputation for doing low-budget shows at such high quality and at a very professional standard,” McSorley stated. “It was small, but it was so professional, and the size of the production assisted in exploring the meaning of the show as well as created a more intimate environment.”

McSorley was familiar with Pared Down Productions as she starred in The Last Five Years alongside Jordan Louis Fischer when the company was just starting out. She expressed that while she learned a lot from working with the company, she also found it extremely beneficial sitting in the audience and watching their work.

“It was interesting to see how important translating emotion to an audience really is. It is one of the most important elements of doing a show, and it’s absolutely incredible how performers have the power to move people like that.”

Kevin McDonnell, another Niagara student, also attended the production.

“Ultimately, especially with community theatre, you can’t always be sure about the quality of the production,” McDonnell commented. “However, I was pleasantly delighted by the level of expertise, command of language, and vocal technique that the performers exhibited. It really exceeded my expectations.”

McDonnell believes that people who don’t usually attend live theatre should take the time to go see this show as it offers much more than just a night of entertainment.

“I think that anyone who is unfamiliar with the show or is just looking to experience something new would benefit from seeing this piece because it deals with an important issue in today’s society,” he stated.

In addition to mentioning the importance of the show’s themes, McDonnell highlighted other perks of community theatre.

“You might get to see people that you know from around the area, and the price is lower,” he said. “So you’re also not paying extremely high prices, but you get a good production for the value.”

The inspiration and creativity of live theatre also cannot be underestimated.

“You never know how those types of performances are going to affect you,” McDonnell expressed, “and you can always pull from that inspiration later on, as so many of us do when we feel lost, need encouragement, or want to be reassured that we are not alone.”

Pared Down Productions will continue to put on affordable yet high quality shows in the Buffalo area.

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