The Notebook
Photograph: Courtesy Julieta CervantesThe Notebook
  • Theater, Musicals
  • Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Midtown West
  • Open run
  • Recommended


The Notebook

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

Here comes the rain again. Fans of the 2004 movie The Notebook will remember its most famous scene: After gathering steam for years, the romance between Noah and Allie condenses into a downpour, and their drenched bodies fuse together in a passionate embrace. Not since the Bible, perhaps, has a Noah taken better advantage of a deluge. 

Ingrid Michaelson and Bekah Brunstetter’s Broadway version of Nicholas Sparks’s 1996 novel (the first of several musicals this season adapted from books that became films) takes pains to get this moment right, and it does. Rain descends in sheets from above, Noah and Allie come through in a clinch, and a significant portion of the audience swoons. A little of the water even splashes onto spectators in the front row; this is a show that wants to make people wet. That The Notebook succeeds to the extent that it does—at the performance I attended, multiple people were moved to tears by the musical’s final scenes—is a testament to the power of the familiar, and of talented actors to make it seem new. 

In the movie, Noah and Allie are played at different ages by two pairs of actors; in the musical, there are three pairs of actors, and their stories are interwoven less chronologically. Younger Noah (John Cardoza) and Younger Aliie (Jordan Tyson) fall in love as teenagers but are separated by fate and meddling parents; Middle Noah (Ryan Vasquez) and Middle Allie (Joy Woods) reunite a decade later. We learn of them as Older Noah (Dorian Harewood) reads their story to Older Allie (Maryann Plunkett), who is lost in a haze of dementia.  

The actors don’t resemble each other, but that’s not confusing; co-directors Michael Greif and Schele Williams keep the narrative frames clear at all times. And whether or not you’ve already encountered The Notebook in some form or other, you already know this story. The plot is the most basic kind of romantic fantasy—forbidden young lovers, rich-girl-and-poor-boy division—with the twist of being told from the vantage point of age and infirmity. (It’s a bit like an inverted version of Titanic in which Jack survives to marry Rose and then she does forget him.)  

The Notebook | Photograph: Courtesy Julieta Cervantes

In Brunstetter’s adaptation of the book, this threadbare tale is further reduced to its archetypal essentials. Boy meets girl, and they fall in true love straightaway, without even the sparks of bickering Sparks gave them. (“I know nothing else matters ‘cause one day you’ll carry me home,” Aliie sings at their first encounter.) Boy loses girl, but we know he’ll get her back because, unlike the film, the musical makes no effort to hide the fact that the older man reading to Allie is Noah. Potential threats to their happiness (Allie’s fiancé, Noah’s rebound relationship) are minimized or cut, so there’s no suspense—or emotional stakes—in their romance, just a steady march to a conclusion we already know. 

More than ever, Noah seems like a manly pixie dreamboat: a working guy with rough hands but a poetic soul (he drops Whitman’s name once) who is hot as heck but sweet and encouraging and respectful and patient and eternally, doggedly devoted. Though the actors playing Noah are good—and the two younger ones sing alarmingly high notes very well—they don’t have much to work with. The Allies fare better with more specific material: Plunkett is genuinely moving in her dignity and confusion, and the gorgeous Woods brings humor to Middle Allie’s neurosis. As Allie’s mother, Andréa Burns brings gravitas to a part that no longer makes much sense; Carson Stewart adds welcome levity as a physical therapist. 

It feels like Brunstetter has pruned everything she can to make room for Michaelson’s songs, but the tradeoff is not always worth it. The music is better suited to mood than action; it’s pretty, but in a general way, and it fades into itself. And when the score does reach for emotional character moments, the lyrics often let it down. Tyson belts out the show’s catchy takeaway tune, “If This Is Love,” with gusto, but it’s hard to sound like you’re discovering fresh feelings when you’re stuck with “Butterflies that fly in me / That never seem to go away” or “Knots in my stomach / The kind that never heal.” (Do any knots heal?) Woods sings wonderfully in her big second-act decision number, “What Happens”—ecstatically lit by Ben Stanton—but you wish she were sharing something less banal than “Only I can choose my choice.”

And yet: As much as I rolled my eyes at The Notebook, I can’t deny that they sometimes welled up. In this version, it’s the older Noah and Allie—whom Brunstetter draws with the most care, free from the fetters of plot, and around whom Michaelson writes her most touching music—who get to you. Plunkett’s truthfulness pierces through the sentimentality, and there’s something elemental in the combination of love and loss that this pair embodies. As Younger Noah says of Allie’s painting: “It’s sadness and it’s joy, right?” At its best, The Notebook finds a way to deliver both, if only in shorthand. 

The Notebook. Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (Broadway). Music and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson. Book by Bekah Brunstetter. Directed by Michael Greif and Schele Williams. With Maryann Plunkett, Dorian Harewood, Joy Woods, Ryan Vasquez, Jordan Tyson, John Cardoza, Andréa Burns, Carson Stewart. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. 

Follow Adam Feldman on X: @FeldmanAdam
Follow Time Out Theater on X: @TimeOutTheater
Keep up with the latest news and reviews on our Time Out Theater Facebook page

The Notebook | Photograph: Courtesy Julieta Cervantes


Event website:
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 W 45th St
New York
Cross street:
between Broadway and Eighth Aves
Subway: N, Q, R, 1, 2, 3 to 42nd St–Times Sq; A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority

Dates and times

You may also like
You may also like