'The Notebook' review — a trip down memory lane on stage and off

Read our review of The Notebook on Broadway, songwriter Ingrid Michaelson and book writer Bekah Brunstetter's stage adaptation of the bestselling novel.

Kyle Turner
Kyle Turner

In The Notebook, memory is on the mind. With a book by Bekah Brunstetter and music and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson, The Notebook Broadway musical attempts to create a nesting doll of memories – the audience’s and the characters'. The audience's, by recalling the nostalgic affection they may have for the 1996 book and 2004 film. The characters', by triple-casting its romantic leads by age.

Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood play Noah and Alzheimer's-afflicted Allie in their twilight years, Joy Woods and Ryan Vasquez in their 30s, and Jordan Tyson and John Cardoza in their teens. In a nod to other memory musicals like Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, directors Michael Grief and Schele Williams have all six actors running around on stage throughout: the younger Noah and Allie looking into their future, the elderly couple haunted by the ghost of their pasts, and their middle selves stuck.

This compelling conceit gets weakened by a flat book and lyrics. Brunstetter and Michaelson aim for simplicity, but lyrics like a repeated “sadness and joy” fail to illuminate Noah and Allie's depth of character.

The Notebook: The Musical can only compensate so much with Michaelson's strumming music, with repetitions that are pleasant but melt together, and some songs become indistinguishable from each other. Occasionally, a flourish in John Clancy and Carmel Dean's orchestrations grabs the attention.

But throughout the show, it’s Woods who rises to the occasion as she wrestles with the character of Middle Allie and shines. Subtle gestures like a nod of the head feel gigantic. Her body vibrates during her 11 o'clock number, “My Days,” and it feels monumental. Her emotion floods into the crowd and submerges the viewers in her light. Joy Woods: That’s someone we’ll be remembering.

The Notebook summary

At an understaffed nursing home, Noah reads a romantic story to another patient struggling with Alzheimer’s, which sends the two down a road to the past. He and Allie were once sprightly young lovers kept apart by her wealthy family’s classism. The show jumps through time between the present day, their teenage years, and young adulthood, when they have responsibilities, a newly renovated house, and, in Allie's case, a fiancé. In the present day, Noah keeps Allie at the edge of her seat as she fights to remember that this is their story.

Based on romantic novelist Nicholas Sparks’s debut book, The Notebook has cemented itself as a pop-culture hallmark of modern romance stories, as it rushes through time and memory, showing the power of love.

What to expect at The Notebook

Scenic designers Zinn and Banaki’s big wooden edifice hangs by strings, and the outline of Noah and Allie’s dreamhouse drops in and out between the plain walls of the nursing home. Long, cylindrical lights dangle, too, and the spotlights bounce off the water that sits at the edge of the stage as Noah and Allie momentarily roughhouse in and around it. The water isn't used much in the show, but it — along with mirrors on either side of the wings — acts as a reflector, the light shimmering on the walls of the stage and theatre.

And there we are in the audience, also reflecting, seeing if these characters remind us of the ones we projected ourselves onto (or whose aggressive sentimentality we dismissed) 20 years ago. With the help of adroit lighting design from Ben Stanton, the show is best when we’re in limbo with Noah and Allie, their past selves ricocheting against time and light.

What audiences are saying about The Notebook

As of publication, The Notebook has a 90% approval rating on Show-Score based on more than 500 reviews from audience members.

  • “Go and feel the power of storytelling!! You will leave the theatre purified!” writes Show-Score user TheWizard.
  • “[A] meaningful, touching score, a timeless, imaginatively retold love story w/ an extremely talented cast,” writes show-score user RONALD J.
  • “A career defining performance from Plunkett. A wonderful fresh score,” writes Show-Score user ArnoldNeild.
  • “Never saw the movie or read the book but the story is sweet and sentimental. The score and orchestrions are gorgeous,” writes Show-Score user chris_.
  • “This is incredibly well told, with a gorgeous Ingrid Michaelson score sung perfectly. Enchanting is the word,” writes Show-Score user Lizzy Baked Goods.

Read more audience reviews of The Notebook on Show-Score.

Who should see The Notebook

  • Fans of the book and film are obviously the target audience, and they will be more than satisfied — The Notebook on Broadway is a serviceable adaptation of the material that aims to reimagine the story for a new generation.
  • Ingrid Michaelson fans (Ingrid Michael-stans?) will enjoy hearing the deeply felt score and its lush orchestrations.
  • Those who had the good fortune to catch Joy Woods in Little Shop of Horrors or I Can Get It for You Wholesale will be bowled over by her stunning vocals and immense star power on stage. And if you didn't, now's your chance.

Learn more about The Notebook on Broadway

As with the film, the musical adaptation of The Notebook is like a Hallmark card, its sweeping romance sparkly enough to mostly distract from its imperfections. What you'll remember decades from now is Joy Woods’s ability to soar through the stratosphere.

Additional The Notebook content

Learn more and get The Notebook tickets on New York Theatre Guide. The Notebook is at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

Photo credit: Joy Woods and Ryan Vasquez in The Notebook. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Originally published on

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