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The Notebook

Joy Woods, Ryan Vasquez (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

The Notebook

By Lydia Keidel


Bring your tissues! The Notebook, Nicolas Sparks' breakout romantic novel, which later became a blockbuster film, is now retold as a Broadway musical.

This optimistic tearjerker is true to the book except it uses three pairs of actors portraying the same couple at different stages of their lives. It's told from the point of view of Older Noah (Dorian Harewood), a man in his twilight years in a nursing home. He reads to an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimers, Allie (Maryann Plunkett), from a notebook that chronicles the journey of a passionate couple with all the odds against them but who are madly in love.

Ultimately, we learn that this is their love story; Noah is retelling their past in hopes of jogging Allie's memory. The juxtaposition of having the same character on stage at different ages, and seeing them watch their younger or older selves, is poignant and thought-provoking. They visually make the point that the antagonist in this story is time.

A person and person holding hands

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Maryann Plunkett, Dorian Harewood (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

An abundance of talent plays these sympathetic characters. Top of the list is Maryann Plunkett playing Older Allie; she's the heart of the play and onstage pretty much the entire length. Stellar when she's the focus but equally as brilliant in her subtle, nuanced reactions as she listens on the sidelines to the yarns. Her breathing quickens, her body tenses, she gets agitated - you can see her reliving the adventure. Joy Woods (Middle Allie) also shines in her range of emotion. And Jordan Tyson (Young Allie) is excellent in her Broadway debut, having originated the role in the successful premier at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2022.

John Cordoza (young Noah) and Ryan Vasquez (middle Noah) both elevate The Notebook with their tremendous vocal range. A few notables giving strong performances in minor roles are: Hillary Fisher (Sarah), Chase Del Ray (Lon) and Carson Stewart (Johnny/Finn) who delights us with his perfectly landed comic performance.

A group of men on stage

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John Cardoza, Dorian Harewood, Ryan Vasquez (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

Bekah Brunstetter's book is a well-crafted rewrite of Sparks' bestseller, easy to follow despite traveling back and forth in time. The honestly written characters are relatable, with lots of humor injected into this narrative of love and tragedy inextricably linked.

It was important to both Brunsetter and Ingrid Michaelson (music and lyrics) that The Notebook be inclusive, as the story is universal. The ensemble is cast as mixed-race couples. "It's a color-conscious casting" explained co-director Schele Williams in solidarity. It's a nice touch to make a quiet statement: it's not about race: what you see is their spirit and love.

The weakest aspect of The Notebook has to be the music. Indie pop musician and singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson's melodies seldom match the emotions of the songs, and the music is repetitious, with lyrics that cross the fine line from dramatic to melodramatic. Some changes in the songs could help shorten this 2 hour and 20 minute musical, which would be welcome, as the story, albeit sentimental, is thin and needn't take that long to tell.

Michael Grief (co-director) respected director of Dear Evan Hansen, Next to Normal, Rent, If/Then, Days of Wine and Roses, Hell's Kitchen and many others, has a knack for grabbing the audience and guiding them to the soul of the piece. He, along with co-director Schele Williams, who strongly identifies with The Notebook as her mother has Alzheimers, expertly add layers and dimension with their staging.

Also shining a light, the intimate downstage set (Brett Banakis, scenic design) features a pond of water (presumably the lake where the lovers met one blissful summer). The water combined with mirrors in the wings and lighting director Ben Stanton's magic touch reflects a dreamy glow that echoes their past. Costumes (Paloma Young) were purposefully color & style coordinated to keep the couples easily identifiable.

The Notebook, which looks like a winner, is an emotional story sure to touch almost everyone. Love conquers all.

The Notebook

Schoenfeld Theatre

236 West 45th St

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes