Author: Ella Yates
I have always been reluctant when it comes to movie-to-musical adaptations. In the past five years, it seems like most shows touring or on Broadway are based on an already existing story. So, when I started seeing videos on TikTok about The Notebook being turned into a musical, I was skeptical. I had only seen the movie a handful of times and skipped the ending every time because I knew it would leave me in tears. But I kept seeing great reviews for the show, so I spent two days obsessively checking the Chicago Shakespeare Theater website to see if I could get tickets. Finally, on September 22nd, my boyfriend and I went to see the show. It was our first time seeing a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (located on Navy Pier), but we were impressed with the experience we had there.
If you have the intention of seeing this show as a copy and paste of the movie or the book, then you won’t enjoy this production. The problem with many movie-to-musical shows is that they don’t answer the question of “why does this story need to be told in a musical form?” It is common for these musicals to do everything the movie does and just add a few songs and choreographed numbers, but that’s not what The Notebook did. This musical explores grief, time, and love in a way that cannot be done in book or movie form. The characters of Noah and Allie are played by six different actors to represent them throughout the years. This is a unique property of the musical form because it allowed these three sets of actors to interact with each other through memories. Having three sets of the same characters on stage at the same time allowed the characters to be observers of their own story, either viewing it from the future or acting as a voice for their older counterparts. A perfect example of this storytelling is when young Allie and Noah are sharing an intimate moment at the same time as middle Allie and Noah are meeting for the first time in ten years. All four actors are singing the same lyrics at the same time, but the meaning changes so much because of the ten-year gap.
One part of the movie that always bothered me was the first interaction between Noah and Allie. A scene that is setting up a relationship that lasts throughout the entire movie starts with Noah yelling at Allie and threatening to hurt himself if she doesn’t go out with him. The musical does none of this. Instead, that scene is replaced with more of a “love at first sight” tone with Allie refusing to go with her friend because she wants to know more about this boy. In addition to this change, I enjoyed how the musical focuses less on middle Allie’s fiancé, Lon, and more on her emotions dealing with the choice between the two men. This conflict is shown in my favorite song and performance in the show. Since I saw the show in previews, none of the songs are listed in the program or anywhere online, but just trust me that this song is pure magic. Joy Woods, the actor I saw as middle Allie, had a fantastic voice that paired beautifully with Ingrid Michaelson’s music and lyricism. Everything from the changing sets to the powerful ending lighting of this number gave me chills.
Everything about this experience was magical. The water pit and onstage rain was something I had never experienced in a live theatre space, and not only was it impressive but it worked so well with this show. A lot of people associate The Notebook with the iconic rain scene, and the musical did not disappoint. The ending of the movie made me cry, but the ending of the musical made me cry in a way I didn’t think was possible. The entire second act is an emotional rollercoaster filled with heart breaking interactions between the past and the present and wonderful lyrics on the passage of time and the concept of losing someone you love. The audience didn’t wait until the end of the final song to give a standing ovation. I have been to many musicals, but that was the first show I’ve been to where a standing ovation started even before anyone bowed.
As of now, the media of this show is limited, but the photos and videos released really display how beautiful this musical is. Ingrid Michaelson has a cover of the big act one Allie number on YouTube, and I have been listening to it on repeat ever since I saw this show. The press reel that the production has released includes a song from act one and a snippet of the final chorus of the finale. While the show closes at the end of October, I think this musical has a solid chance of transferring to Broadway.