The Notebook

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Photo: Julieta Cervantes Review
Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling 1996 novel (and its beloved 2004 movie adaptation), “The Notebook,” is cannily designed to push more buttons than a Depression-era elevator operator. A decades-spanning tale of boy gets girl, loses girl, gets girl (and ultimately may lose girl again), “The Notebook” is meant to touch anyone who has faced parental disapproval, separation by war or other circumstance, or has been forced to make tough choices in order to have a relationship survive. Only those with the hardest of hearts (best known as theater critics) might not shed a tear or two, if not end up a bawling mess.

Yet, somehow, I didn’t hear thousands of sniffles at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, where the often affecting, gorgeously acted and somewhat elegant musical adaptation of “The Notebook” has landed on Broadway months after a successful run in Chicago. Still, the show qualifies as genuine tear-jerker, and while it lacks the spectacle of reigning Broadway champ “Moulin Rouge,” I won’t be surprised if this show has an even longer run.

For better and worse, playwright Bekah Brunstretter has made a couple of substantial changes to the book and film’s structure. For one thing, we’re immediately introduced to the six actors who play the prime couple, Noah and Allie, at three different stages of life; as a result, there’s no need (as there was before) to try guess a connection between the oldest pair and their younger counterparts.

True, the eldest Allie (a sublime Maryann Plunkett) is still a dementia-laden women living in a care facility who doesn’t realize the kindly older man (superbly played by a heart-wrenching Dorian Harewood) -- who is reading to her from a mysterious notebook -- is her husband. But the audience either figures this out immediately or is informed of the fact much sooner than in previous versions.

In addition, the show is now set in the late 1960s until the 2010s (much later than the original setting). Yet, even though we begin in 1967, we do believe that even in those hippie-dippy years, the rebellious-yet-still scared teenage Allie (an enchanting Jordan Tyson) isn’t strong enough to stand up to her snobbish mother (the wonderful Andrea Burns) and forge a full life with her summer sweetheart, the unsophisticated, good-hearted, good-looking country boy Noah (a perfectly cast John Cardoza).

But 10 years later—in 1977 – there should maybe a little less doubt whether Middle Allie (essayed by the fantastic Joy Woods in a breakout performance) will stick to convention after she returns to find Noah (now in the form of the fabulous Ryan Vasquez) living in the over-large house he’s built for them. Why the long separation? Allie’s overprotective mother hid a year’s worth of letters he wrote her from Vietnam, so there’s been some “miscommunication.”

Further, Allie is also engaged to good-guy Lon (Chase Del Rey in an almost blink-and-you-miss-it turn); in fact, she’s set to marry him just days after reconnecting with Noah. But should that niggling detail really stay in the way of what is clearly true love?

As engaging as the younger quartet are, we are mostly caught up with their elderly counterparts, who both face medical issues that make us wonder if any sort of “happy ending” is possible. Or is this tale just destined to end in tragedy? (I’m not telling!)

“The Notebook” marks the debut musical theater score by indie pop songwriter Ingrid Michaelson. She has crafted a whole lot of ballads (“If This Is Love,” “Forever”), too many of which – while pleasant – sound a bit alike, and not enough up tempo tunes to give the show the variety it needs. In fact, if I had not known better, I might have suspected this score was a concept album come to life.

Co-directors Michael Mayer and Schele Williams deserve much credit, not just for expertly guiding their cast (including the adorable Carson Stewart in two nice-guy roles) to wonderful performances but making sure no dies during an extravagant rain sequence. David Zinn and Brett J, Banakis’ sets, from the minimalistic to the realistic, are wonderful, especially when augmented by Ben Stanton’s gorgeous lighting. Paloma Young’s costumes, while not overly showy, are also right on the nose.

If the actual notebook in “The Notebook” proves anything, it’s that the pen is mightier than whatever else is out there, not just the sword.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 3/14/2024
Closing Open-ended

Theatre Info
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036