The Hollywood hit ‘The Notebook’ is now a Broadway musical

“The Notebook,” the love story between Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams), became a blockbuster sensation 20 years ago and sparked a real-life love affair between its stars.

The fictional romance will now play out on stage at the Schoenfeld Theater with new, original music from singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson.

“I always wanted to be on the stage,” said Michaelson, who grew up on Staten Island and studied theater in college. “Then I quickly realized that I didn’t have that Broadway belty voice.”

Michaelson said that the older she got, “the more I thought maybe if I can’t be on stage, I can create something.” When one of the show’s producers, Kevin McCollum, asked her to work on a musical version of “The Notebook” several years ago, she seized the opportunity.

The Broadway version’s plot follows the movie’s. Noah is a working-class teenager who falls in love with wealthy Allie. Her parents disapprove, and her mom hides his love letters to Allie.

But Broadway’s version centers on an interracial couple and takes place during the Vietnam War, rather than during World War II.

The musical features relative newcomers to Broadway alongside veterans like “Roots” star Dorian Harewood. It also grapples with the challenges of loving someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Every time I watch the show, I think very deeply about the life I want to live, the choices I want to make, the impact I want to have on the humans that I’ve been blessed to touch every day,” said co-Director Schele Williams.

Michaelson, Williams and her co-Director Michael Greif discussed the show with WNYC’s Kousha Navidar. An edited version of their conversation is below.

Kousha Navidar: Ingrid, what was it about writing a Broadway musical that really attracted you?

Ingrid Michaelson: I went to school for musical theater and I always wanted to be on the stage. Then I quickly realized that I didn’t have that Broadway belty voice. I started to write my own music, and then “singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson” emerged. I never lost that love of musical theater. The older I got, the more I thought, maybe if I can’t be on stage, I can create something. I was asked by one of the producers, Kevin McCollum, seven years ago, about working on this, and here we are now.

When you’re adapting something as well-known and as well-loved asThe Notebook,” there are going to be people who come in with a really particular set of expectations of the show. What was your approach for dealing with that pressure?

Schele Williams: I don’t know that we ever thought about it as pressure. What we approached the piece with was a great deal of respect because this story does touch on real people’s experiences. Alzheimer’s is a deeply personal and individual journey. We do have overlap, those of us who are experiencing it in our lives.

We wanted to make sure that the show had some breadth and some space and people could live inside it, and that’s why I think it’s different than other musicals. I was talking with Maryann Plunkett yesterday and she says, “I think of this as an offering.” I thought that was such a beautiful word to describe what this is. People come to the show and I think sometimes they have a very big emotional response because we give them space to.

Schele, you mentioned in a piece with the New York Times that your own mother has Alzheimer’s. We were talking about how deep these connections are, how singing comes from a place of deep intrinsic motivation.

Williams: The incredible lyric, “I am still in here,” is something that I hold onto as a daughter because I know she’s still in there. What I need my mom to be in the moment may not be what she’s capable of being for me. I have to get inside her world and allow her world to be my truth but my mother is still in there. That is such a beautiful cry I think that Allie has in this.

I think for any child who’s navigating this journey to know that the person you love is still in there is so hopeful and so beautiful because every day is a new education. There’s all these new phases and we have to keep growing. Everyone who is loving this person that has this and the person that has Alzheimer’s is navigating this world that is changing for them every day. I think that my job as a daughter is to create a safe space, and to accept this reality, and to love the person that I know is still in there.

There’s a question of race that comes up when we watch this show. Unlike the movie, which features a white couple, this version features interracial couples, the timeline has been moved up to the ’60s and ’70s instead of the ’30s and ’40s. What did you want to accomplish by centering this story on an interracial couple, or at least, how much was race a part of the conversations of the show? Schele, let’s start with you.

Williams: Race was always a part of the conversation because it can’t be ignored. Every person that walks on that stage, we wanted them to present themselves authentically. It was our challenge to say, “If we’re going to do this in this way, where does a time period that feels appropriate?”

There are these beaches along the Chesapeake that were Black beaches, interracial beaches or illegal. However, there were these Black beaches that were alongside white towns, and they had these concerts and actually had very beautiful, integrated communities.

I have writings of people who are like, “I went to these beaches. I saw James Brown at Carr’s Beach.” There is a world in which this existed, where there was this affluent family that was a mixed family, that she plausibly went to many restaurants along these beach towns that served a segregated population. We knew it could be plausible and it could be real in America in the right location, which is why we moved it to a coastal town and why we moved the time period. Then we said, “Now we have the opportunity to make this more universal for so many people.”

What made the team work together so well? Was it that authentic self? Was it just magic in the air?

Michael Greif: It comes from a commitment to the material and a trust in how good the material is. It certainly makes me and Schele’s job, or our job, a whole lot easier when everyone believes that what they’re doing is of real quality and really worth spending our time. I also want to include Katie Spellman, our wonderful choreographer, who has been important in the musical staging throughout. She’s a very key member of this community.

Michaelson: I know we’re probably running out of time. I just wanted to say that while there is Alzheimer’s and there are deep feelings, there’s also young love, and there’s also regret and there’s also reuniting. I feel like one of the things about this story that I loved so much was that there are so many different entry points for people to connect and to see themselves and to see their loved ones. Then creating a palette of actors that look all different. That just felt so universal and so beautiful to me.

Schele, I guess we’ll leave with you. What do you hope people walk away with after they watch this musical?

Williams: With a lot of hope. There’s a lot of joy in our show. There’s a lot of laughter. It’s like within the first two minutes, you’re laughing. That’s what is so beautiful about the emotional journey of the show. Ingrid’s got a song called “Sadness and Joy,” and that feels so true to life.

Every time I watch the show, I think very deeply about the life I want to live, the choices I want to make, the impact I want to have on the humans that I’ve been blessed to touch every day, that every day is an opportunity to be better and to leave a great impression on this planet. I think that that is what I hope people walk away with, that they feel joy and hope.

“The Notebook” is now on Broadway at the Schoenfeld Theater.

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