Try not to think about it too much as a musical about bipolar disorder. Think of "Next to Normal," which opens April 12 at Contra Costa Civic Theatre, as a Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play that's worth your attention.

The rock musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt focuses on an overmedicated mom barely holding on, an overachieving, advanced-placement daughter who gets a pothead boyfriend, a son who seems to be playing hide-and-seek with himself and losing and a husband who is worried about everything.

But underneath all that drama, it's basically the tale of a typical suburban or urban family (except mine, of course) and offers plenty to smile knowingly about and break into full laughter when you suspect someone has taped a few evenings in your family room.

"Next to Normal" is also a tender story with humor and heartbreak coexisting, as the Goodman family, like the rest of us, rafts down the dangerous river of life without a map or paddle.

"I like that 'Next to Normal' focuses on the dark and the light side of the human condition; you have to have the dark to appreciate the light and vice versa," says Susan Hovey, who will direct the show for CCCT.

"Next to Normal" plays April 12 through May 5 at the CCCT in El Cerrito. Tickets, at $15-$27 may be purchased at 510-524-9132 or www.ccct.org.

THE "BOYS" CAN STILL BRING IT: "Jersey Boys," written at least partly by members of the Four Seasons pop group on which it is based, is paying a return visit to the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, where it began its tour in 2007.

The show spent a lot of time here then, and the real "Jersey Boys" were around for part of the run. Yeah, I hung out with them, mostly Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, a tall man who first hit fame when he was 14 or 15 with a hit record called "Short Shorts."

The other three Seasons were looking at a life of petty crime, prison or dead-end gigs until they hit the charts with such hits as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Let's Hang On" and "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)."

When it was here the first time, I saw the show maybe six or seven times (counting rehearsals) and enjoyed each one. The show told an entertaining story, and the cast album won a steady spot on my iPod -- to be played loudly.

The musical and the music are still a pleasure to experience, and the show has matured into something that takes an even closer look at the group, particularly the dark offstage moments of relationships and crime, but also loyalty, passion and friendship.

It's certainly worth a few hundred dozen toe-taps.

"Jersey Boys" plays through April 28 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets range from $45 to $210 (subject to change) and may be reserved at 888-746-1799 or www.shnsf.com.

"A KILLER STORY": The new noir mystery play by Dan Harder gets its world premiere April 12 at The Marsh Berkeley.

While the production is noir by nature, the play is set in the digital age, where a tough, smart sleuth looks for a missing scientist who is about to create a revolutionary "brain chip." But the situation spins wildly out of control and ends up with a killer story that eventually involves everyone in the crime tale.

"A Killer Story" plays 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays through May 18. A preshow cabaret begins at 7:15 p.m. Tickets, at $20-$50, are available at 415-282-3055 or www.themarsh.org.

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.

DON'T MISS

"The 39 Steps": The Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller is presented slapstick-style in a Patrick Barlow adaptation being presented by Walnut Creek's Center Repertory Company, with 150 characters played by a cast of four; March 29-April 27 at the Dean Lesher Center for Arts, Walnut Creek; $33-$51; 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org.
"The Good Doctor": Neil Simon's comic take on Anton Chekhov plays through Saturday at Chabot College's Stage One Theater, Hayward; $10-$15; www.chabotcollege.edu/theaterarts.