The Notebook: Without Gosling or geese, Broadway's ‘The Notebook’ is gutsy without guile  

New York — After winning novels and movies, “The Notebook” arrives on Broadway as an awkward musical this spring. It wants to make a live audience cry with enormous quantities of schlocky emotion without Ryan Gosling.

The spectacular musical that opened Thursday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is about a love for the ages, yet Ingrid Michaelson's coffee shop tunes bring peace. Bekah Brunstetter's book is melodramatic and loses steam early on.

This Nicholas Sparks adaptation tells the love story of poor boy Noah Calhoun and rich girl Allie Hamilton as the elderly narrator reads to his elderly wife with Alzheimer's, who later reveal to be the young couple whose passion was interrupted by controlling parents.

There's inflation even on Broadway, so three sets of multicultural Noahs and Allies have been employed for different stages, resulting in six people representing our center couple at times, a somewhat dispersing effect. Lucky for them, boys wear brown and girls blue as in kindergarten. A Broadway musical that needs color cues to identify the cast is a bad indicator.

The visuals are complicated by directors Michael Greif and Schele Williams and choreographer Katie Spelman pushing everyone around in a frenzied swirl, implying that love makes you want to race. The older couple (Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood) hardly leave the stage, strangely watching their younger selves, with Noah reciting from his notes to remind his wife. The Neil Diamond musical uses this unsettling effect to draw attention and complicate passages.

A song about Alzheimer's benefits from the film's fragmented chronological timeline, which allows time to be controlled and scenes to disintegrate and overlap. That chance was wasted on songs like “Iron in the Fridge” and the cringeworthy “Is it time for dinner?/Is it time for forever?”

The writer avoided copying the Gosling-Rachel McAdams film's most endearing scenes, such as hanging off a Ferris Wheel, sleeping in a street, and boating with geese. However, adding another health concern, a tedious physical therapist for comedic relief, and a horrible sea turtle metaphor (“they return to the same nesting spot where they were born”) reveal desperation.

The movie's lustful rain scene has been staged, and the couple does that famous clinch multiple times. Unfortunately, there's more musical, including death, which had many audience members crying at a preview. Maybe they were upset with the hammyness.

Michaelson nails “Leave the Light On,” “If This Is Love,” and the hilarious “Forever,” but most of the 20 songs fade from your mind mid-song. A great song like “My Days,” for Joy Woods, is a welcome break but sounds like another musical. Due to the multicultural ensemble, the location has changed from the 1930s and '40s to the '60s and '70s (Diane von Furstenberg-like wrap dresses) and from South Carolina to “a coastal town in the mid-Atlantic,” removing specifics.

Perhaps that explains David Zinn and Brett J. Banakis' weird scenery. It's Broadway's first hybrid hospital-boating dock design in years, and perhaps the last. The pool has genuine water and occasionally a pilon or boat hull, along with a neon Exit sign and frigid hospital decor.

The odd details overpower Noah's charming attempt to demonstrate the growth of his refurbished old house, his ambition to win Allie back. It begins as abstract references—a window here, a porch there—before becoming tangible when she names it home. Sea turtle-like.

Lighting designer Ben Stanton failed to recreate stars from fluorescent office lights by hanging neon tubes vertically. A ticking clock adds to the show's overkill. Avoid running back from the bar after a messy Act 1 conclusion since Act 2 begins with a comatose patient.

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