We are in an assisted living center, and Allie and Noah are sitting by a piano on the side of the stage. Allie has put up a bit of a fight, but she has finally allowed him to read to her. All we know is this is a love story, and he thinks she will like it. As he starts to read, two teenagers run on stage. The two are laughing, and the lights shift to a blue with waves, signifying that we are by a lake. The waves slowly consume the stage, giving everything the slightest hint of wonder. As they tease and splash each other, Allie looks at them with a sense of curiosity.
Who are they, and why do they seem so familiar?
Those who are familiar with The Notebook, like this writer, may already know that this is a memory. The two teenagers are younger versions of Allie and Noah, and we are witnessing a day in their first summer together – the summer in which they fell in love. Older Noah is reading their love story so that Allie might remember, despite her dementia.
For those unfamiliar with the original book by the same name, this writer encourages you to lean into that sense of mystery. The artistic team seems careful to leave breadcrumbs throughout, inviting us to connect the dots alongside Allie, as Noah reminds her of their origin story.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents The Notebook: A New Musical
With music and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson and book by Bekah Brunstetter, the new musical closely follows the original source material by Nicholas Sparks. We meet Noah (understudy Jerome Harmann Hardeman at this performance) and Allie (Maryann Plunkett) at an assisted living center. We slowly learn that Allie is suffering from dementia, and Noah returns daily to read her their love story, hoping she will remember – even for the briefest moment.
It is a love story that has survived 54 years – despite the many forces threatening to push them apart. We begin in 1967 with Young Allie and Noah (Jordan Tyson and John Cardoza), then move to 1977 when Middle Allie and Noah (Joy Woods and Ryan Vasquez) find each other again after 10 years, and finally end in the present day.
Directors Michael Grief and Schele Williams plant us inside Allie’s brain as she struggles to remember. As Noah reads her the story, we often see her not only look over, but physically enter the memories themselves. In some moments she becomes especially confused or lost in the generations of her younger selves. The actors swirl around her. Time jumps in the play, seeming to invite us to connect the dots alongside older Allie. We, like Allie, feel the struggle to remember.
When Noah and Allie find each other again in 1977, we see them find their way back to their special spot on the lake. The blue light from the beginning of the play swirls around them, and the two finally start to unpack why it has been 10 years since they have last spoken. The discussion quickly escalates into a fight, and --just like in the movie--the rain starts to fall. In the swirls of rain and lightning, the couple stares into each other’s eyes. We feel the tension build. Finally, they kiss, and the entire audience erupts in cheers.
Fans of the original movie, like this writer, may similarly be grabbed by new twists and turns in this script. Magical stage design, stellar cast, and a deeply romantic love story make The Notebook: A Musical a night to remember. If you’re a fan like this writer, the adaptation certainly does the original source material justice, but still takes enough pivots to keep you intrigued.
Yassmin Alers Nurse Joanna
John Beasley Older Noah
Andréa Burns Nurse Lori / Mother
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis Father / Son
John Cardoza Younger Noah
Dorcas Leung Georgie
Omar Lopez-Cepero Lon
Sophie Madorsky Sarah
Liam Oh Fin / Justin
Maryann Plunkett Older Allie
Jordan Tyson Younger Allie
Ryan Vasquez Middle Noah
Joy Woods Middle Allie
Alex Benoit Understudy
Mary Ernster Understudy
Jerica Exum Understudy
Jerome Harmann Hardeman Understudy
RhonniRose Mantilla Understudy
Carson Stewart Understudy
Ingrid Michaelson Music & Lyrics
Bekah Brunstetter Book
Michael Greif Co-Director
Schele Williams Co-Director
Katie Spelman Choreographer
Carmel Dean Music Supervisor / Co-Orchestrations / Co-Arrangements
John Clancy Co-Orchestrations
Geoffrey Ko Music Director
David Zinn Co-Scenic Designer
Brett Banakis Co-Scenic Designer
Paloma Young Costume Designer
Ben Stanton Lighting Designer
Nevin Steinberg Sound Designer
Mia Neal Wig & Make-up Designer
The Telsey Office Casting
Bob Mason Chicago Casting
Asmeret Ghebremichael Associate Director
Anna Ebbesen Associate Music Director
Emily Madigan Associate Choreographer
Sasha Smith Intimacy Director
Matthew Buttrey Associate Scenic Designer
Annie Le Associate Costume Designer
Wilburn Bonnell Associate Lighting Designer
Daniel Lundberg Associate Sound Designer
Erica Maholmes Assistant Lighting Designer
Emily Hayman Assistant Sound Designer
Victoria Navarro Production Stage Manager
Thru October 30, 2022
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
About the Author: Lauren Katz
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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