Three different couples, each representing a different age for the two romantic lead characters in The Notebook are onstage. The youngest and middle couples are left and right, respectively, with the younger couple holding hands and the middle couple looking at each other across a space. In the center is the older version, embracing in front of a bed.
The ensemble of The Notebook at Chicago Shakespeare Theater Credit: Liz Lauren

If you’re a fan of The Notebook—either the romantically waterlogged, sugary-sentimental 2004 movie or the Nicholas Sparks novel that prompted it—you’ll probably be swept away by the musical, directed by Michael Greif and Schele Williams and getting a pre-Broadway run at Chicago Shakespeare. 

The love story between rich girl Allie and working-class Noah spans decades, tragedies, and obstacles in a Norman Rockwell world lit like a Thomas Kinkade painting. 

The Notebook
Through 10/30: Tue 7:30 PM, Wed 1 and 7:30 PM, Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 2:30 PM, Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, $59-$125

Ingrid Michaelson’s score is packed with yearning, soaring money notes, and romantic lyrics. Bekah Brunstetter’s book highlights endless emotional highs (and lows) as it follows Allie from adolescence to memory care unit (Maryann Plunkett as Older Allie, Jordan Tyson as Younger Allie, and Joy Woods as Middle Allie) and Noah (John Beasley, Ryan Vasquez, and John Cardoza, as Older, Middle, and Younger Noah, respectively) from young infatuation to Vietnam to assisted living facility. 

The titular notebook refers to a diary Younger Allie kept, and which Older Noah reads back to Older Allie in hopes it will cut through the dementia that’s killing her “return” to him.  

It’s no coincidence that The Notebook has roughly the same vibe as This Is Us, the Emmy-winning NBC family drama Brunstetter wrote for years—highly emotional, multigenerational storylines of agony and ecstasy, love and loss.  

The Notebook works hard to push every button required to open the tear ducts. There are long kisses in scenic summer rains. There are virgins having sex for the first time, rapturously and without fumble, backlit by glowing lights. It mostly succeeds. But in the end, The Notebook is escapist fare that’s as pleasant as cotton candy and about as substantial.