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March 23, 2024
"Every Great Love Starts With A Great Story"
The Notebook
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Creating a musical from a successful book and movie is a mixed bag. The upside is that the material already has thousands of loyal fans. At the same time, it attracts audiences with expectations. That was one issue when the Harry Potter franchise was made into movies. Would audiences find that the films were true to the pages? Perhaps that’s one reason why the successful Harry Potter Broadway show goes beyond the book as a kind of a sequel.

This season there are several book-movie-musical offerings. The first is The Notebook: The Musical at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. The show is based upon the 1996 novel by Nicholas Sparks which spent weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The 2004 film starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams grossed $115.6 million worldwide and is the 15th highest-grossing romantic drama film of all time.

Personally, I much prefer the books and the recent musical adaptation of “The Notebook: The Musical” reminded me of why.

The story begins with Older Noah (Dorian Harewood giving a tender, warm portrayal) in a nursing home reading a book to Older Allie. She is obviously suffering from Alzheimer's and exhibits common symptoms, struggling for words, growing frustrated and sometimes belligerent. She doesn't recognize Noah but listens intently to the story.

Sometimes she turns on him, angrily asking who he is. Her exasperation and anger are palpable, As the Older Allie, Maryann Plunkett is touching and upsetting. Noah remains patient and calm. Quickly we learn that he is her husband. The notebook is the story of their life and love together which she wrote when she realized that she was losing her memory. She told him that she would ‘return’ to him if he read it to her. (If only the cure was that easy.)

Although their relationship is obvious to all - except Allie, who has only a few lucid moments, the musical shares that information much too soon. The book waits until halfway through to let the reader know his identity. This takes a little of the mystery out of the story. So, we know that whatever occurs later on, they will wind up together.

The story is set over three time periods and the pair is depicted by three pairs of performers.
They meet as teens one summer in the late 1960’s and Younger Allie (Jordan Tyson) keeps her relationship with Younger Noah (John Cardoza) from her parents. They meet and are immediately attracted to one another. He’s a school drop-out and working with his father in a lumberyard while she is a child of privilege with controlling parents. The two spend weeks of the summer together until Allie brings him home. Realizing that she is serious, her parents cut their vacation plans short and leave, but not before Allie and Noah share intimate moments.

Years go by and the two lose touch, in great part, because Allie's mother (a good Andrea Burns) intercepts Noah’s letters. When they meet again years later, the cast has changed. Middle Allie (Joy Woods) reads about the house that Middle Noah (Ryan Vasquez) has built and although she’s engaged, flies to the town to see him and 'their' house.

Will they wind up together? Of course, the script already told us they will grow old together so there’s no tension or suspense.

Some of the more creative scenes include two or even three of the pairs on stage together.
The music and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson begin pleasantly but then songs like “Sadness and Joy” and “Don’t You Worry” feel repetitive. Much of the music is plaintive and in fact, in part due to the nature of the story, somewhat depressing. The music is enjoyable with little variation in tone or text. Although it’s a love story, Allie’s condition certainly casts a pall over much of the play.

Harewood sings a couple of heartfelt songs and makes several humorous comments about age. The younger cast members are talented, and their singing voices are impressive. The diverse casting works effectively, even though the characters barely resemble one another. (Middle Allie is much taller than Younger Allie.) We know who they are by the subtle use of color in their costumes (costume design by Paloma Young). Each of the men wears a mustard-brown shirt and each woman wears a garment of blue.

Michael Greif and Schele Williams direct the melodramatic sentimental book by Bekah Brunstetter. Even if we didn't know what was going to happen, the story is all too predictable.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I am easily affected by sad stories, so I was ready to blubber like a baby at “The Notebook.” Yet the musical didn't affect me at all. Perhaps if the musical had been trimmed by 30 minutes and ran for only an hour and a half, it would have had more impact.

There are several other book-musical shows opening this busy theater season. “Water for Elephants,” “Great Gatsby” and “The Outsiders.” Having read them all, I know what the stories are about - now let’s see if they work as musicals.

Schoenfeld Theatre
236 W. 45 St.
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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