For an entire generation of readers, hearing the name Nicholas Sparks likely evokes a lot of emotions, since that’s exactly what his heartfelt books do – they tug at the heart strings. When one of Sparks’ most popular books, The Notebook (1996) was made into a movie (2004), fans went wild. The movie was perfectly cast and beautifully told Noah and Allie’s love story. The movie has been a staple in many lives for many years. It’s one that has personally struck a cord with me and brings back floods of memories every time I see it. Whether you read the book or watch the movie, the story told in The Notebook will likely make you cry, make you laugh, fill you with yearning and gratitude and just make you feel – feel all the emotions. The brand new musical version of The Notebook will do the same!
That’s right, The Notebook has now added theater to its repertoire, musical theater to be specific. If you’re a longtime lover of this story, you may wonder, how? How can they make such a classic story, and somewhat sad story into a musical show? But the team behind this world premier production, including Broadway directors Michael Greif and Schele Williams, as well as songwriting whiz Ingrid Michaelson made it into something truly beautiful. The key to remember is that it’s a story, a long love story, and there is a lot to show outside the sadness we often think is associated with this story. To my surprise, this was a great way to tell it.
If you’re not familiar with Allie and Noah, let me give you a little synopsis of what The Notebook is all about. Of course it’s a love story, but it shows the raw pain of love too. Allie and Noah meet as teens, in a seaside town – she’s on lavish summer holiday with her wealthy family, he’s a local lumber worker. They have an instant connection and quickly fall madly in love. But, as often is the case, life and class and age get in the way. They part unwillingly and lead separate lives for 10 years. They go through big milestones on their own, while never forgetting one another. Allie sees Noah’s picture in the paper, with a house he remodeled (one they had dreamed of living in) and decides to pay her long lost love a visit – a week before her wedding to another man. I won’t give too much away, but you can imagine what happens. After all, a connection so instantly strong, well, that doesn’t just go away.
The Notebook sounds like a lot of other love stories, but the real beauty of this story is how it’s told. Unfortunately, Allie gets Alzheimers later in life and she has to be reminded of her past by Noah. He gently coaxes her back to who she was and tells her their love story as they wrote it, as a way to remember their past. This play did a wonderful job of moving between past and present, showcasing the couple as they first fell in love, as they reconnected and as they grew older. Often, the different aged versions of the characters were on stage together, they even sang many songs together, and it really proved the point that no matter where we end up, we always carry with us the person we once were.
The cast of the show were absolutely fantastic, and while it sounds petty, the thing I loved the most is that they never once made me think of Rachel McAdams as Allie, or long for Ryan Gosling as Noah. These actors portrayed aspects of those movie characters we know and love, but brought so much of their own presence to the roles they felt fresh and different, while still honoring the original book and movie. Joy Woods as Middle Allie and Jerome Harmann Hardeman as Older Noah were the scene stealers in my eyes. Joy brought light and laughter to Allie, which was much needed to balance out Allie’s more tense younger years and lost older ones. Jerome’s Noah just made me want to hug him. He was sweet, funny, loving and just the epitome of Prince Charming in a love story.
The Notebook’s world premier runs at the Chicago Shakespeare theater has been extended through October 30, 2022. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at www.chicagoshakes.com.
Additional information can be found at www.chicagoshakes.com/notebook or on social media at @chicagoshakes with #NotebookMusical.