Reviews

The Notebook ****

By: Isa Goldberg

Much 28 , 2024: Daring it is, that Bekah Brunstetter and Ingrid Michaelson’s new musical, The Notebook, arrives in such a crowded musical season.  It’s subject, nearly unspeakable, is Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. Not a comedy, and not a show with A list movie stars. But a show that is meaningful, surprisingly.

Jorrdan Tyson (Younger Allie) and John Cardoza (Younger Noah)/

By: Isa Goldberg

Much 28 , 2024: Daring it is, that Bekah Brunstetter and Ingrid Michaelson’s new musical, The Notebook, arrives in such a crowded musical season.  It’s subject, nearly unspeakable, is Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. Not a comedy, and not a show with A list movie stars. But a show that is meaningful, surprisingly.

Based on the bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks, the multigenerational story leads us into the inner life of the central character, Allie, portrayed by Maryann Plunkett. Plunkett, a seasoned stage actor, sweeps into dramatic action subtly – as if such could be the case of a woman living through an emotional typhoon. Her rage, and fear are menacing.

Multiracial casting (by Patrick Goodwin) embroiders the narrative most sensitively. Here, Allie’s ageing husband Noah is played by Doran Harewood, a black actor, and the younger Noahs, by white actors. In contrast, Allie’s younger versions are portrayed by actors of color. Its sophisticated racial blending speaks to the universality of ageing…at least, its darker side. 

Maryann Plunkett (Older Allie) and Dorian Harewood (Older Noah).

Styled as a traditional book musical, the early expositional scenes feel a bit heavy handed. At the beginning, Old Noah remembers their youth, how they met, and eventually their entire family will join in song.  With these short scenes, and songs that introduce the characters, and tell us where they’re coming from, the setup feels formulaic, nothing we haven’t see a million times.  

However, it takes off when Older Noah and Older Allie finally have a scene together. After that, the musical moves on, it becomes less self-conscious, and flows with its own energy and truthfulness. More importantly, the attention to character here is unusual. Of course, that is essential to the role of Ally. Still, each of the characters is well drawn. 

As written, three actors portray each of the two romantic leads, reflecting three phases in their lives and their relationship. In her Broadway debut as Younger Allie, Jordan Taylor gives a breakthrough performance. She beams with enormous talent. More than musically seductive, John Cardoza plays a tough guy, with a formidable sense of inner strength. 

In addition to telling the story, a few of the songs are also great standalone tuners, so the beauty of the voices on stage matter. Fortunately, Ingrid Michelson’s lyrics and music are most beautifully sung by Joy Woods, as Middle Allie. Her performances of What Happens, and her duet with Younger Allie, I Wanna Go Back are rousing, and vocally rich.

John Cardoza (Younger Noah), Dorian Harewood (Older Noah), and Ryan Vasquez (Middle Noah).

Playing opposite Woods, in the role of Middle Noah, Ryan Vasquez is a great vocal match, with an understated, albeit intense presence. Yassmin Alers plays a number of roles with distinction. But not to be overlooked is Doran Harewood, in the role of the beloved, who is overlooked, and cares only for Allie.

Katie Spelman’s choreography –romantic, passionate scenes – sneak up on you naturally from the fluid way the actors move on stage. Directors Michael Greif and Schele Williams give the production substantial grounding. 

Paloma Young’s costumes grab character, age, and type, at a glance. Granting us a glimpse of a bare chested romantic lead is also thoughtful. David Zinn’s and Brett J. Banakis’ scenic design tells us we are in a nursing home that is a bit upscale, or well disguised so to speak.  

Mostly, the production elements – Lucy MacKinnon’s projections and Ben Stanton’s lighting are well enmeshed in the storytelling. It’s definitely not a flashy show, but it is a rock solid production. 

The actors have great chemistry, the music and singing carry the show, and a most disturbing, but sadly familiar tale, takes the stage.

The Notebook: The Musical ****
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 W 45th Street
Photography: Julieta Cervantes