Review: ‘The Notebook’ musical enhances the adored love story

By Avery Timmons, Copy Editor

Kailey Ryan

In a modern day nursing home, an elderly man, Noah, opens a notebook worn from years of use, which he is determined to read to an elderly woman, Allie. As the story starts, the audience is launched back in time as the younger, happier versions of the couple run out on stage, holding hands and laughing — their love story is only beginning.

“The Notebook,” a musical inspired by the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, made its world premiere at Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater, located at 800 E. Grand Ave., for an exclusive run lasting through Oct. 30.

While the story may be familiar to anyone who has read the novel or watched the film, the music behind the theatre production adds to the experience of seeing this beloved story played out on stage. The emotional musical numbers are written by singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson. While this is Michaelson’s theatre debut, she has an extensive music career and released eight albums, featuring several gold and platinum hits.

Not long after the character’s introduction, Older Noah takes out the famed notebook and begins to read to his wife, who is unaware at this point that he is telling their love story due to her dementia.

There is a change of scenery and atmosphere as Younger Noah and Younger Allie take the stage, reflecting the story that Older Noah is reading. Their meeting is followed closely by a duet in which the two admit they are falling for each other.

The musical weaves between the timelines, bringing the audience from Younger Noah and Allie back to the nursing home, where Older Allie is beginning to have some familiarity with the story, but still can not remember its significance.

The audience is also soon introduced to Middle Noah and Middle Allie. The duo take on more of a lead role in the second act as they are reunited after years of separation; the audience still keeps up with their younger and older counterparts in brief scenes.

One of the songs that features Middle Noah and Allie includes the famed letter scene, in which the two realize that Allie never received the letters Noah wrote to her while they were apart.

This introduction of the final versions of Noah and Allie also results in a few beautifully orchestrated musical numbers that feature all versions of the two characters.

One in particular is found in Act 1, where Younger and Middle Allie join their elder counterpart on stage. Older Allie trying and failing to remember her past is visualized by her walking around the stage, surrounded by her loved ones — including all three versions of Noah — but as she reaches out to touch them, they turn away from her. This scene is accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful ballad sung by the two younger women, as they almost beg Older Allie to remember the past.

Older Allie herself does not sing until the end of the show, leaving the audience to anticipate hearing her voice. When she does, it is one of the most emotional moments of the musical, because she sings only when she finally remembers that Noah is her husband, and that the story he had been reading to her was theirs. The number ends as the two lie in bed together and pass away peacefully in each other’s arms.

The closing number starts shortly after and features all three Noahs, all three Allies and the characters that accompanied them throughout their love story, such as friends, family and nursing home staff. Strips of light turn on above the stage, revealing the orchestra and bringing the musical to a close — likely with some, if not many, tears from audience members.

But it is not just moving; the musical is speckled with humorous one-liners throughout that will certainly get viewers laughing, making this a wonderfully well-rounded experience.

For avid fans of “The Notebook,” love story enthusiasts and theatregoers alike, this musical is one that cannot be missed.

“The Notebook” will wrap up Oct. 30, ending its exclusive run at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.