Review | ‘The Notebook’ musical is an aspiring tearjerker with issues

The Notebook musical cast
Jordan Tyson (Younger Allie) and John Cardoza (Younger Noah) in The Notebook on Broadway
Photo by Julieta Cervantes/Provided

There is no denying that the new Broadway musical adaptation of “The Notebook” (based on the Nicholas Sparks’ novel, which then became a hit 2004 film with Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling) wants to position itself as a tearjerker – so much so that official “The Notebook” tissue boxes are being hawked as affordable souvenirs at the theater.

The musical theater canon is full of deeply emotional shows that can be considered tearjerkers such as “West Side Story,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Les Miz,” “Falsettos,” “Blood Brothers” and “Carousel.” There is something deeply cathartic about a good cry at a great musical. Even as a critic, I am not immune from weeping when it is called for. In fact, I want to achieve that emotional connection.

While I must confess that I have never read the novel, I have seen the film version of “The Notebook” enough times to feel as if I know it by heart. As the story goes, in the present day, Noah visits Allie in an assisted living facility. Although Allie appears to not know Noah, he insists on reading her a book about a boy and girl from different backgrounds who fall in love. Spoiler alert: Noah and Allie are the boy and girl from the story, and the idea behind Noah telling it is to remind Allie (who now suffers from a cognitive disorder) of who she is and of their relationship.

Even if it is not necessarily a great film, it works as an unapologetically sentimental Hollywood romance with mid-century period costumes and heartthrob personalities. It is the kind of user-friendly, four-quadrant, popcorn movie that they don’t seem to make anymore. I even streamed the film right before attending the show using the Max app on my phone. Perhaps I will watch it again after writing this review.

On the other hand, I have no real desire to attend the musical again or listen again to its introspective and indie-style but uninteresting score by Ingrid Michaelson.

The Notebook musical cast
John Cardoza (Younger Noah) and Jordan Tyson (Younger Allie) (front); Ryan Vasquez (Middle Noah) and Joy Woods (Middle Allie) (middle); and Dorian Harewood (Older Noah) and Maryann Plunkett (Older Allie) (back)Photo by Julieta Cervantes/Provided

Directors Michael Greif and Schele Williams and book-writer Bekah Brunstetter deserve credit for their willingness to rethink the property for the stage. In addition to updating the time periods (from the 1940s to the 1960s for the flashbacks) and presenting Allie’s medical condition in a more raw and unsettling manner, the casting concept has been rehauled, such that Noah and Allie are now each played by not two but three performers who represent them at different ages, including John Cardoza, Ryan Vasquez, and Dorian Harewood as Noah and Jordan Tyson, Joy Woods, and Maryann Plunkett as Allie.

All three versions of each character share the stage frequently, such that the timelines and storytelling are diffuse and constantly shifting. Not only that, Noah and Allie are each portrayed by actors of different races at different times. You leave the theater thinking less about the story and more about the meanings and design of the casting concept and whether it adds to or detracts from the storytelling.

The production achieves the visual seamlessness that Greif has become identified with (i.e. “Next to Normal,” “Dear Evan Hansen”) and is anchored by images of water, with both a downstage pool area to serve as a lake and a rainfall effect for the central moment in which Noah and Allie finally rekindle their romance.

Frankly, I just wasn’t that into it, though many others at my performance had themselves a good cry over the young love, forced separation, eventual reunion, and determination to hold on in spite of illness and memory loss. I wish I could have joined them, but “The Notebook” (at least for me) does not come together in a way that justifies those emotions, so I will save my tears and tissues for the next revival of “West Side Story.”

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., notebookmusical.com.