How ‘The Notebook’ transformed from page to screen to stage

The romance of lovers Noah and Allie first took the world by storm as a bestselling novel and then as a fan-favorite film. Now, it's a Broadway musical.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Endless love. It's Cupid’s Krazy Glue. It creates a bond that overcomes all circumstances – wealth, time, health, and more. It’s what ties rich Allie and poor Noah in the musical The Notebook, premiering on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

The show is based on Nicholas Sparks's 1996 bestselling novel, which inspired a blockbuster film eight years later starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. But The Notebook wasn't over with that film, and it still isn't over: The musical now marks the Broadway songwriting debut of musician Ingrid Michaelson alongside book writer Bekah Brunstetter (This Is Us, The Cake).

Michael Greif (Hell’s Kitchen, Days of Wine and Roses) and Schele Williams (The Wiz) co-direct the production that arrives in New York from a 2022 Chicago premiere. One critic praised the adaptation for boasting a “unique voice of its own.”

Find out more about what makes each version of The Notebook — book, film, musical — distinct and noteworthy. To paraphrase Sparks: Despite their differences, something rare and beautiful was created.

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The Notebook book (1996)

First-time novelist Nicholas Sparks didn’t have to look too far for inspiration for his bestseller — which was also his debut solo novel. He was drawn to the enduring love story of his wife’s grandparents. They’d been married for 60 years when he met them, and they were still deeply devoted to each other.

Their love was just a jumping-off point for the novel, which a literary agent rescued from a collection of unsolicited manuscripts. The Notebook is framed by the titular notebook, which an elderly man is reading to his wife at a nursing home. It contains the story of how a young couple met in 1932 in North Carolina, fell in love, and then went their separate ways.

Allie’s mother, Anne, disapproved of the match because of Noah’s low status. She kept a year’s worth of Noah’s letters to Allie hidden. In 1946, Allie and Noah reunite after she sees a newspaper article about Noah and an old house he restored.

By this time, Allie is engaged to Lon Hammond, a lawyer and (like Noah) war vet. But the attraction between Allie and Noah intensifies after Anne shows up with Noah’s letters. Sparks writes: “Allie thought that she heard her mother whisper, ‘Follow your heart,’ but she couldn't be sure.’”

What Allie's heart chooses is a spoiler we won't reveal. But that line — and many others — immediately captured the hearts of fans. The Notebook was named to The New York Times's bestseller list in its first week on shelves and remained a hardcover bestseller for a year. And to think the book almost got lost in a manuscript pile!

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The Notebook movie (2004)

Adapted by Jeremy Leven and Jan Sardi and directed by Nicholas Cassavetes, The Notebook movie cost $29 million to make and, despite tepid reviews, earned four times its costs at the box office in 2004.

The film is largely faithful to the book and uses the same framing device. Chemistry between McAdams (on Broadway in 2024 in Mary Jane) and Gosling as the young lovers is a hallmark of the flick, along with a rain-soaked smooch lifted from the novel. James Garner and Gena Rowlands, the director’s mom, play the elderly nursing home residents.

The movie did tweak the book's timeline. Noah and Allie meet in 1940 this time around — nonetheless, the way her mom (Joan Allen) sees it, that spells trouble. (Cut to an elderly Allie: “I think I’ve heard it before.”)

Out of the Army, Noah buys a dilapidated home he painstakingly rehabs, as he told Allie he would. She, meanwhile, falls for Lon (James Marsden), and by 1947, they're engaged — but that same year, Allie and Noah, now in their mid-20s, reunite.

Yearning bubbles up faster than you can say MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss (one of multiple accolades the film won). At this point, the film expands on a moment in the book in which Allie’s mother reveals that 25 years earlier, she fell in love with a laborer a lot like Noah. “I hope you make the right choice,” she tells her daughter.

Though the film isn't a musical, music sets The Notebook's tone throughout. Billie Holiday's “I’ll Be Seeing You” and Jimmy Durante's “Where or When” underscore key moments.

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The Notebook musical (2022)

Like its predecessors, The Notebook musical opens on an elderly couple. Here, the man is Noah, reading to fellow nursing home resident Allie, who has Alzheimer’s. The notebook contains their love story, and he's banking on his belief that hearing about their younger years will jog her memory.

Musicals can amplify the intimacy of a story through songs that can express inner thoughts — perfect for a story filled with yearning and passion. Michaelson, who’s known for emotive work in genres like indie pop and folk, alludes to the power of love in a plainspoken song from the show: “Nothing can stop this, it’s almost like a hurricane.” Speaking of weather-related events, yes, it rains on stage during the famous kiss.

The most distinctive change the musical’s creators made is in its casting. Six total actors play the lovebirds: a younger, middle, and older Allie and Noah. As the plot unfolds across three chapters in the couple's romance – meeting, reuniting, aging – the concept underscores ideas about identity and how the past bleeds into the present.

Get The Notebook tickets now.

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