The Notebook

Original Broadway Cast, 2024 (Atlantic) 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5) The Notebook wears its heart on its sleeve. And why wouldn’t it? From Nicholas Sparks’ novel to Nick Cassavetes’ film to Ingrid Michaelson’s Broadway musical, the story of Noah, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, and rich girl Allison, who fall in love as teenagers and stay in love for the rest of their lives, has touched people all over the world. The question presented by this cast album is: How many earnest pop ballads about love can fit in one musical? And the answer is, a surprising amount. Michaelson’s music is lush and catchy, and only in the latter part of the score does it begin to feel repetitive. Her lyrics, written more in the pop vein, often deal in false rhymes (“time/mine,” “coin/joy,” etc.), and in doing so, they don’t quite give the ear what it wants. These lyrics also lack some of the specificity that musical theater requires. But where the score comes up short, the wonderful performances of the six leading cast members who play Noah and Allie at three different stages of their lives make up for it. John Cardoza as Young Noah has an especially delightful, buttery voice that lends itself perfectly to Michaelson’s musical style, and the gruff sound of Dorian Harewood as Older Noah provides an excellent contrast to the expansive vocal quality of the four younger performers. One of the album’s greatest losses is Maryann Plunkett’s full performance as Older Allie. Since her character has dementia for the duration of the show, the authors choose not to have her sing until the finale. When Plunkett does sing, and also when she delivers the snippets of dialogue that are included on the recording along the way, she infuses the character with reality, fire, and beauty. Happily, there are plenty of delights even in her absence. If pop artists were still covering songs from musicals, a few numbers in this score could easily be stand-alone hits: “I’ll Leave the Light On,” Middle Noah’s tribute to the lover he’s gone too long without seeing, is deliciously mournful, and “If This Is Love,” Younger Allie’s account of her feelings towards Noah, is an innocent delight. But The Notebook is strongest as a musical theater recording, rather than a pop album, when it deals with more serious topics; “I Want to Go Back,” in which Younger and Middle Allie voice the frustrations of their older counterpart about being forced to stay in a hospital, is likely to give the listener goosebumps with its soaring melody and plaintive lyrics: “Is it time for dinner? / Is it time for forever?” Indeed, any time Noah and Allie sing in harmony across the generations, it’s immensely satisfying to the ear, their voices blending beautifully and hauntingly. These moments of intergenerational connection could’ve been less frequent in order to maximize their impact, but the listener will be grateful for the aural riches that are present. In live performances of The Notebook, the sounds of audience members sniffling, crying, and outright bawling can be heard during the show’s final scenes and even during the curtain calls. Listeners to the cast album may have a similar response, because even if the songwriting isn’t consistently up to par, it’s good enough to deliver a powerful emotional wallop. Charles Kirsch