Reviews BroadwayNYC Published 21 March 2024

Review: The Notebook at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre ⋄ 10 Feb-Open Ended

A new musical adaptation of the weepy Nicholas Sparks novel leaves our critic with dry eyes. Cameron Kelsall reviews.

Cameron Kelsall

“The Notebook” at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

During previews for The Notebook on Broadway, the souvenir stand hawked branded boxes of Kleenex for five bucks a pop. The new musical, now open at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre and based on the 1996 weepy romance by Nicholas Sparks, clearly seeks to capitalize on the emotional attachment many feel toward its story of enduring love. Yet by the time I saw the show this week, the tissues were gone, and I can hazard a guess as to why. I consider myself one of the great criers in the business, yet my cheeks remained resolutely unstained throughout this schlocky, saccharine melodrama.

Fans of the novel and its subsequent film adaptation will swoon at the familiar plot. Noah, a charming boy from the wrong side of the tracks, falls for artistic, privileged Allie one summer in the 1960s. Multiple factors keep them separated for years — parental interference, the Vietnam war, an inconvenient engagement — but they always find their way back to each other. In the present day, Allie suffers from dementia, and Noah, her devoted caregiver, recounts their love story in the hopes that it will spark her memory once more.

As crafted here by librettist Bekah Brunstetter, the multi-decade courtship is sweet but facile. The audience gets to know Noah and Allie’s story, but as people, they stay fairly one-dimensional. There’s a snatch of backstory revealed here and there, but little investment is given to show why they love each other — or why we should fall in love with them — beyond mere chemistry. It’s also hard to imagine Brunstetter, whose early plays were incisive and often confrontational, being drawn to this material as anything more than a paycheck.

It doesn’t help that the production, co-directed by Michael Greif and Schele Williams, divides the two leading roles between three sets of actors. The choice may reflect how the characters feel at different stages of their lives, but it further distances the audiences from knowing them at their core. The middle pairing get the shortest shrift dramatically, and as a result, Ryan Vasquez and Joy Woods give the most general performances. The winning John Cardoza and Jordan Tyson, who do not appear to be that much younger than their older counterparts, could have easily carried the middle part of the narrative while also portraying Noah and Allie’s first flush of love.

If the production has one unqualified triumph, it’s the complex, layered performance of Maryann Plunkett as Older Allie. She suggests the girlish, headstrong personality of her character that is trapped behind the curtain of a failing memory. Even when she’s silent — as she usually is; composer Ingrid Michaelson gives her only half a song — her large, expressive eyes tell an entire story. Her interactions with the senior version of Noah (Dorian Harewood, not on her level) are filled with tension and a palpable sense of caring, even when she cannot remember how she knows him or what he means to her. It’s a testament to the ability of a great actor to rise above her material.

Michaelson, a singer-songwriter making her first foray into musical theater writing, supplies a score that vacillates between generic ballads and numbers with a pleasant but forgettable folk twang. There is hardly a lyric or a melody that lingers long after you’ve left the auditorium. Other characters in the story are treated as afterthoughts — a shame when the ensemble includes talented veterans like Andréa Burns and Yassmin Alers.

The production design is handsome but austere. The dream home that Noah builds for Allie — and which the script describes in painstaking detail — is represented by columns, risers, and a floating door in David Zinn and Brett J. Banakis’s rendering. Ben Stanton’s lighting design feels too high-key for a romantic story. But kudos to sound designer Nevin Steinberg for not mercilessly over-amplifying the performers or the orchestra.

I expected rivers of tears to flow by the end of the show. (No spoilers, of course, but it’s predictably lachrymose.) Instead, I heard a few isolated sniffles. Guess they didn’t need those tissues after all.

Cameron Kelsall

Cameron Kelsall is a longtime contributor to Exeunt NYC. He writes about theater and music for multiple publications. Twitter: @CameronPKelsall.

Review: The Notebook at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre Show Info

Produced by Kevin McCollum, Kurt Deutsch, et al

Directed by Michael Greif, Schele Williams

Written by Bekah Brunstetter

Choreography by Katie Spelman

Scenic Design David Zinn, Brett J. Banakis, COSTUME DESIGN: Paloma Young

Lighting Design Ben Stanton

Sound Design Nevin Steinberg

Cast includes Yassmin Alers, Alex Benoit, Andréa Burns, John Cardoza, Chase Del Rey, Hillary Fisher, Dorian Harewood, Jerome Harmann-Hardeman, Dorcas Leung, Happy McPartlin, Juliette Ojeda, Kim Onaj, Maryann Plunkett, Jordan Tyson, Ryan Vasquez, Charles E. Wallace, Charlie Webb, Joy Woods

Original Music Ingrid Michaelson

Show Details & Tickets

Running Time 2hr 20min


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