Bonus Material

No, We Still Haven’t Seen the Movie: A 3-in-1 on 'The Notebook'


March 20, 2024

Emily Chackerian

Emily Chackerian (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based arts administrator, theater writer, and social media manager. She currently serves as the Artistic Assistant at Signature Theatre. Originally from Albuquerque, NM, Emily attended Wesleyan University, where she studied playwriting. She also volunteers as a Script Reader for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival and the Jewish Plays Project. To read Emily’s other work, check out her arts & pop culture newsletter, ‘What I Liked This Week,’ for silly and thoughtful reflections on theater, television and literature!

Maddie Rostami

Maddie Rostami (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based dramaturg, producer, and educator. They're the Senior Program Manager for CO/LAB Theater Group, a non-profit that provides creative and social opportunities to participants with developmental disabilities. Maddie previously served as the line producer for the Shahrazad Squad, a project supporting SWANASA women in partnership with Cal Shakes. They're the former Associate Artistic Director of Inclusion at the Portola Valley Theater Conservatory and a proud alum of the Berkeley Rep fellowship program. Favorite dramaturgy credits include EVER IN THE GLADES at The Kennedy Center and EYE C U at Victory Gardens.

We — Emily Chakerian and Maddie Rostami, staff members here at 3Views — arrived at the Schoenfeld Theater for The Notebook with few expectations. In what felt like a fluke, neither of us had seen or read the original movie or book. Neither, it seemed, had the woman seated to our immediate right. Nearly as soon as we sat down, she struck up a conversation — she didn’t know the story and was mostly here to see heartthrob John Cardoza (Younger Noah). She continued: “I saw it at first preview and now I’m here at the last preview. The show is perfect. I predict it will win every Tony Award, even the ones it’s not nominated for. I mean, the show has literal water onstage. It has to win awards.” As actors took to the stage, she issued one last warning: “They sell these little tissue boxes at the gift shop, and you’ll need them.” We glanced down at her shopping bag — a poster and tissue box inside — as the onstage flurry of hospital workers took our attention.

In many ways, this is the “third view” of our 3-in-1 — the audience members who were already onboard with a cult-like following this early into The Notebook’s run. As we offer our own commentary on the piece, we’ll also bring in their points of view. After all, romance novels are the highest-selling genre of fiction books, bringing in 1.14 billion in revenue, so it feels right to bring in the masses here as we dive into our thoughts.


First Impressions

Based on Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel of the same name, and turned into a Hollywood smash in 2004, The Notebook is a love story between Noah and Allie, two people from different worlds. This is about the only framework we needed entering the theater. 

Maddie: I had no real specifics in my mind – I knew that The Notebook was originally a romance novel and that it’s a tear-jerker. As someone whose grandma ultimately passed away from complications with dementia, the framework of the piece struck me hard.

Emily: Going in, I knew that there was a kiss in the rain (famously recreated by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards), that Noah wrote to Allie every day, and that my mom read the book and found it too sappy. That said, I’m no stranger to romance novels. I’ve read plenty a beach read, I know the “second chance romance” trope. And on reflection, I wonder how many romantic tropes were created by Sparks.   

Jordan Tyson (Younger Allie) and John Cardoza (Younger Noah). Photo by Julieta Cervantes


It’s a Match

This current version of The Notebook has three different sets of the story’s central couple: Young, Middle, and Older. Older Noah (Dorian Harewood) reads aloud from a notebook, taking audience members back in time to tell their love story. In some moments, we focus on just one couple. In others, all three versions appear at once.

Emily: I love theater that plays with time, so book writer Bekah Brunstetter’s setting note that “Our story lives in three time periods” feels tailor-made for me. It’s incredibly satisfying to have the characters converge onstage, and I think it emphasizes that Noah and Allie’s love is not only enduring, it’s inevitable. Although I was willing to “buy in” to the multi-time story from the beginning, it is used best in the final scene of the first act, when each couple finds themselves on the brink of change. In books, I find myself irritated by this kind of love story — Stop being angsty about the past! Move on! Make out! — but it mostly worked for me as a performance. I think this is because of Maryann Plunkett’s beautiful performance as Older Allie. Through Brunstetter and Plunkett, The Notebook becomes less of a will-they-won’t-they romance, and instead, a piece about a woman’s desire for reconnection. 

However, while I understand Brunstetter’s vision, I worry that means we lose some of Middle Noah and Allie’s (Ryan Vasquez and Joy Woods, respectively) development. They are so busy being characters in their older selves’ stories that they fail to stand on their own. And although Woods’s big-hearted Middle Allie does eventually have a lovely solo or two, she otherwise isn’t given much to work with.

Maddie: I totally agree with you – out of the three different ages, the middle couple felt the least fleshed out. Woods was phenomenal, but there felt like a disproportionate amount of time in Act I especially focusing on the Younger version of the couple: their early flirtation, their increasingly all-consuming love, their heartbreak. Middle Allie and Noah get a chance to reconnect. They share a piece of pie and kiss in the rain. But what should feel like a momentous shift, that second chance romance Emily mentioned, felt flat with under-development. Instead, Plunkett’s Older Allie stole the show for me in a truly singular performance — the devastation and ferocity of her moments of confusion (and, conversely, the warm vulnerability in her lucid moments) felt like the linchpin of the whole story. 

Older Allie’s search for any memory to cling to, her longing to (re)connect with a different version of herself — that’s what felt the most effective about the triple casting. As Younger and Middle quite literally slipped away between columns of a pier, lucidity was elusive. Or as all three sang in tight harmony, a semblance of the past came to life with painful and beautiful clarity. I didn’t come into this performance expecting to be moved, but moved I was.

Maryann Plunkett (Older Allie), Joy Woods (Middle Allie), and Jordan Tyson (Younger Allie). Photo by Julieta Cervantes


At intermission, our neighbor’s friend rushed up to her, breathlessly demanding to know why no one had warned her that Younger Noah “would be nearly naked on stage” (Cardoza ends the first act in only his underwear). There was a buzz in the air, theatergoers in the women’s bathroom line enthusiastically comparing the musical to the movie: 

“I’m already crying!” 

“Every time I watch the movie I cry so much!” 

“Oh, me too.” 

These were the pre-existing fans, who knew what was coming. Had they already purchased the $5 tissues? Did they plan to grab a wad of paper towels from the bathroom? Or just wing it? 


We Can Hear The Bells 

Ingrid Michaelson, whose indie pop tunes were seemingly everywhere in the early-mid 2000s, wrote the music and lyrics from this Broadway adaptation. But how did her folky, light-hearted music transfer to the Broadway stage?

Maddie: I was, as a young(er) one, an Ingrid Michaelson superfan. I went so far as a high schooler to sing ‘’You and I” while busking on street corners with friends. But here, it was the voices that were standouts, not Michaelson’s score. I always have a song in my head, tapping my feet or humming on the Q train. But as I commuted home, not a single riff was memorable enough to stick. The music was enjoyable, the band was tight, and the vocals were great. But with Michaelson’s indie pop background, I never felt truly transported. Her pieces felt like love songs one might sing on a street corner, not true vehicles for storytelling. 

Emily: I’ll be real, when I think about Ingrid Michaelson, I have a fight-or-flight response. (Something about being in an original jukebox musical in college that featured songs by her and Jason Mraz will do that to you.) Her music is fun, it’s twee (or twee-adjacent), it’s good for accompanying what was loosely a queer reimagining of Waitress. And I think her work as a musical theater composer is in line with this. I’d describe The Notebook as nice to listen to, although I agree with Maddie that most of it didn’t immediately stick with me. Michaelson has created a score that marries the contemporary musical theater sound with her signature folk/indie style but never tries anything new. That said, there’s a certain sweetness to her songs that matches the feeling of young love, so dramaturgically, I was satisfied. 


Appearances Are(n’t) Everything

Designed by David Zinn and Brett J. Banakis, the set of The Notebook slips between a hospital room, a cabin in the woods, a hotel, and more, held together by the satisfying consistency of Paloma Young’s colorful costumes and Lucy McKinnon’s projections.     

Joy Woods (Middle Allie) and Ryan Vasquez (Middle Noah). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Emily: As someone who recently started working in theater, I worry about burnout. What if I can only watch a show through a critical or analytical lens and I don’t get swept up in it anymore? And then a moment like The Notebook’s rain scene comes along, and Zinn and Banakis usher my concerns away. Because no matter how many mental notes I’m taking, no matter how frustrated I am that we don’t know Middle Allie and Noah that well, their embrace and that (decadent, almost excessive) amount of rain flowing onto the stage? That’s magical. 

Maddie: Now, I’m jaded enough to not be as blown away by the water-based theater magic (nothing like working on a production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses will make anything else pale in comparison). For me, the magic was in the versatility of Zinn and Banakis’ design — their set felt as ever-changing, reinventing itself into different configurations. Bones of a pier become bones of a home, the frame of memories that we try to construct for ourselves. 


While we won’t spoil how The Notebook ends, it’s worth mentioning that the final songs were accompanied by a chorus of snuffles rippling across the theater. As one heightened scene flipped to the next, the sounds of crying rapidly turned into uncontrollable giggles. It’s hard to say whether this laughter came from a place of self-consciousness or whether it was simply from the unique thrill of a collective emotional experience. 


Second Date? 

Our closing thoughts on witnessing Broadway’s new love story. 

Maddie: Going into The Notebook with no expectations was, I think, a gift. When the production was first announced, in fact, my gut impulse was that of any dramaturg: “Why on earth this play now?” I certainly wasn’t expecting to feel so deeply or to weep with the best of them. And yet here I was, transported by the longing —– not in the steamy sense at all associated with the romance novel genre, but the longing to hold onto something, anything, of the life we have built with loved ones. 

Emily: I’ve never been in a room with that many people audibly sobbing. It feels really easy to diminish The Notebook as too weepy, or tourist bait, or just for the blonde girls who surrounded me in the bathroom line. But I also think that theater is about community, and this show provided that, even if in a funny or silly way. If Maddie and I can go into The Notebook without an emotional or sentimental connection to the movie, and still be moved by the show and its audience, that’s meaningful.     


Will The Notebook win “every Tony Award,” like our neighbor said? Every single one feels like a stretch. But the show offers a touching, imperfect love story, and sometimes that’s all we need from a night at the theater. 

The Notebook is currently running on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

Join Our Mailing List

Thank you! More views are coming your way!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
A Project of The Lillys
Web Design and Development by 
FAILSPACE Design Services
.insight-body figcaption a { font-size: 14px; }