The Notebook – Not Quite What It Was

Nicholas Sparks’ runaway success The Notebook (the author’s first novel) inspired a 2004 film with an equally devoted audience. Many of them are here tonight. The love story still resonates, casting is excellent, the production is well directed and well designed. Still, I’m a crier and found my eyes dry. Not that it wasn’t touching, but there are disconnects.

Noah and Allie recognized each other as soulmates when teenagers. She was wealthy, he blue collar. The two were kept apart ten years by means of parental sabotage, then serendipitously found one another. They had a loving marriage (with children) until Allie began to suffer dementia.

John Cardoza and Jordan Tyson

When his wife moved into a nursing home at 70, though she no longer recognized him, Noah took a room to be close. Presenting himself as a friend, he reads to Allie from a notebook she wrote as the disease became apparent. It’s the story of their 54 year relationship. Noah believes something in it will spark sufficient memory to bring her back.

As Noah reads, he and Allie appear onstage as adolescents and in their thirties enacting their story in a rondo. Older Allie ricochets between being anxious and intrigued, occasionally recalling some element of the past. She sees her husband and children as strangers and wonders what they want of her. Noah is loving and patient. Time runs out, but not before…

Ryan Vasquez and Joy Woods

That the original story took place in the 30s and 40s while this rejiggered version is set in the 60s and 70s is something of an issue. 1. WHY wouldn’t Noah have telephoned? 2. Allie’s parents are behind the times with their social prejudice. 3. The heroine is considered elderly at 70. Additionally, “… heartbreak, graduation… Thanksgivings, a war” is all we hear about what occurred during the decade apart. Bekah Brunstetter’s book skillfully weaves laughter throughout what could otherwise have been melodrama and tailors speech to character, but the era change and omission repeatedly give one pause.

The biggest disconnect is that so called blind casting finds Allie’s two younger versions African American, both Noahs White. Her parents are also of mixed race. Not disconcerting as set, this never would’ve worked in the 30s and 40s. In their old age, however, Allie is White, Jonah Black. They’ve switched! WHAT?! WHY?!

Ingrid Michaelson’s somewhat folksy songs are fine in context though they won’t stand up to scrutiny. For the most part, the songwriter bows to this new-to-her genre and writes for the moment, but tunes are similar, lyrics often cliché.  Only when young Allie and Noah first approach sex does a number peppered with parlando stand out with humor and empathy.

Maryann Plunkett, Joy Woods, Jordan Tyson

Jordan Tyson (youngest Allie) and John Cardoza (youngest Noah) are fresh faced and straightforward in their acting. Both seem innocent, likeable, and spunky. Joy Woods (Allie in her 30s) and Ryan Vasquez (the same) are likewise believable in their roles. Both men can slide up to higher tenor which nimbly relates them. Both women vocally soar.

As Allie’s mom and the doctor, Andrea Burns delivers yet another superb, ably grounded performance.

It is, of course, the old couple who hold us. Dorian Harewood is marvelous as Elderly Noah – tender, hopeful, determined, clothed in love. We’re with him every step of the way.

Maryann Plunkett (elderly Allie) is the axis on which the piece turns. Personification of the confused, frightened character is stunning. Inexorable aphasia emerges wrenching. Parentheses of joyful clarity make one’s heart leap. 

Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood

Directors Michael Greif and Schele Williams have choreographed six actors manifesting three stages of Allie and Noah’s lives with clarity. Use of the multi-level set is aesthetic as well as establishing memory overlaps. How often have we vividly imagined ourselves in the past? The company is superb. Characters are subtly created with sincerity and focus. Lovers’ chemistry is warm and credible. No intimacy director is listed, but the aspect is believable.

David Zinn/Brett J. Banakis’ set fluidly displays each chapter of the protagonists’ lives. That those in the past often physically look down on their elders works well. Variance in heights and materials employed directs the eye. A dock and stream (real water) add verisimilitude as does pouring rain.

Lighting (Ben Stanton) is evocative without looking Hallmark. Paloma Young’s costumes fit the characters as if drawn from their closets.

Photos by Julieta Cervantes

The Notebook
Music and Lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson
Book by Bekah Brunsterrer
Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
Directed by Michael Greif and Schele Williams

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street

About Alix Cohen (1720 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.