MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theatre (a movie house turned into a legit stage) is giving Tony- and Pulitzer-Prizewinning musical Next to Normal a strong if far too brief production. Hard as it may be to imagine a musical about a woman with bipolar disorder, Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics and Tom Kitt’s music provide this portrait of family dysfunction with honesty and poetry in equal measure. And under the direction of Andrew Park (music direction by Gary Powell), this version of the show is as moving and funny as the one I saw several years ago at Drury Lane Oakbrook, a bigger house with significantly greater resources. The performance (and especially the singing) of Whitney Morse as Diana, the mother whose illness threatens to wreck her family as well as her own life, suggests much bigger things in her future: she’s rueful but free of self-pity, funny without resorting to stereotype, and all-around engaging. Try to make time to see the show before it closes on September 27. And don’t be fooled by the faint air of community theater which somehow attaches to the location: this is the second show I’ve seen there, and the second one about which I’ve raved.
Meanwhile, BoHo Theatre presents Dogfight, a musical based on a film about Marines who while away their hours before deployment betting who can find the ugliest woman to date. From this unpromising source, playwright Peter Duchan constructs a love story: Eddie (the charming Garrett Lutz) chooses Rose (Emily Goldberg, both sweet and strong) as a joke and unexpectedly finds himself liking her. But before he can follow through, Rose has learned about the game and stormed away. Eventually he tracks her down and what ensues is as romantic as Before Sunrise: a final night spent together falling in love. The show manages to maintain the romance without falling into sentimentality, and to attract our sympathy for everyone on the stage: the Marines whose toughness conceals terror (but not very well) and the women they mistreat as casually as if they were pieces of gum to be chewed and spit out. The music and lyrics by Benu Pasek and Justin Paul suggest the mid-1960s but steer clear of falling into period pastiche, and the cast’s voices are up to the challenge. Kudos to director Peter Marston Sullivan and music director Ellen K. Morris. Through October 18 at Theatre Wit in Lakeview.