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Tony-Nominated Stars of The Notebook on Their Show’s Timeless Love Story

In the sweepingly romantic new Broadway musical The Notebook, Dorian Harewood and Maryann Plunkett anchor a love story spanning three time periods. Portraying older versions of Noah and Allie, the devoted couple created by best-selling novelist Nicholas Sparks, Harewood and Plunkett convey the heart-wrenching reality of Allie’s memory loss from dementia and Noah’s commitment to honoring their enduring bond.

Fortunately, Plunkett, a Tony Award winner for the 1986 musical Me and My Girl, and Harewood, familiar to TV audiences for his roles in Roots, The Jesse Owens Story, and I’ll Fly Away, are more than up to the challenge. In performances that earned 2024 Tony nominations for Best Performance by an Actor and Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, they are the beating heart of The Notebook, earning standing ovations in their triumphant returns to Broadway.

Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood in The Notebook. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood in The Notebook. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

During a joint interview with Broadway Direct, Harewood and Plunkett emphasized the power of their unusual onstage partnership, which was cemented when they met informally to talk about their characters before rehearsals began. “I call us a tag team,” Harewood says with a smile. The older Noah spends his days reading aloud stories of the couple’s relationship from a notebook Allie created to preserve those precious memories. Portions of the stories come to life, vibrantly portrayed by “Younger” and “Middle” Allie and Noah, in scenes seamlessly woven by composer Ingrid Michaelson and Tony-nominated book writer Bekah Brunstetter.

“The book and the score are completely intertwined, which is so beautiful for us and for the audience,” says Plunkett. “We are telling a story that Noah knows, and Allie sees only in flashes. Separately, it’s just me, lost, listening to a man who reads to me and who I feel safe with. Together, we are a pair, and I love, love, love working with Dorian and with this company.”

John Cardoza, Dorian Harewood, and Ryan Vasquez in The Notebook. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
John Cardoza, Dorian Harewood, and Ryan Vasquez in The Notebook. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Far from being a downer, The Notebook is a moving, often funny testament to the power of love. “What touches me most is Noah’s determination and commitment and perseverance,” Harewood says. “It’s so emotional because he just knows that Allie is going to recognize him at some point. She told him so! She said, ‘If you read this to me, I will come back.’ It’s so powerful, and I think that’s why it connects with everyone in the audience, old or young. The young ones see their mother or father, their grandmother or grandfather, in this timeless journey.”

Plunkett feels a personal connection to her character because in real life, her late mother experienced dementia for several years. “This is a way to honor my mom,” she says of her portrayal, “and all people with different forms of dementia. They may be living in a place we can’t touch, but they are still living. My mom fought to survive. On the surface, she could appear angry and frustrated at times, but she was expressing herself and struggling to come out. She had a life force, and that’s what I hope to put into Allie.”

John Cardoza, Jordan Tyson, Ryan Vasquez, Joy Woods, Dorian Harewood, and Maryann Plunkett in <i>The Notebook</i>. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
John Cardoza, Jordan Tyson, Ryan Vasquez, Joy Woods, Dorian Harewood, and Maryann Plunkett in The Notebook. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Both actors marvel at the unique experience of observing costars Joy Woods, Ryan Vasquez, Jordan Tyson, and John Cardoza portraying younger versions of Allie and Noah onstage. “I get so caught up in the story, I have to keep myself from mouthing the lyrics,” Harewood confesses with a laugh. “Me, too!” says Plunkett, adding that she sometimes imagines that Harewood is narrating the action from an actual notebook. “Looking at the ‘youngers’ in Act One, just the openness and beauty of first love, brings up the emotions for me,” she says.

Harewood’s and Plunkett’s ease with the material makes sense, given their backgrounds in musical theater. Before finding fame on television, Harewood appeared on Broadway in Two Gentlemen of Verona, where he met his wife of 45 years, actress Nancy Harewood. Plunkett’s Tony-winning turn in Me and My Girl led to a busy stage career, including a series of 12 acclaimed plays by Richard Nelson, costarring her husband of 33 years, Jay O. Sanders. “We don’t have to wonder what a long relationship would be like,” Plunkett says of herself and Harewood. “It’s just part of us.”

As for singing on stage for the first time in decades, Harewood explains, “I approach acting from a musical standpoint. Acting is words as opposed to notes, but it’s still music and rhythm. That’s what’s exciting about being part of this project with Bekah, Ingrid, Maryann, and all the people onstage and backstage: We’re working together as an orchestra to create this beautiful story. I come away after every performance with more energy than when I came in.”

Maryann Plunkett and the cast of <i>The Notebook</i>. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
Maryann Plunkett and the cast of The Notebook. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

The enduring allure of The Notebook stems from its ability to tell what Harewood calls “a quintessential love story, the most unique love story you’ll ever see.” Unique, but also universal, adds Plunkett: “There are millions of Noahs and Allies in the world at different phases of their lives, discovering, making decisions, and following their hearts. Our story is told with depth and great humor. It’s the story of living a life well.”

Of course, the enthusiastic response from Broadway audiences gratifies the show’s Tony-nominated stars. “Some people dismiss a piece that evokes emotion as a ‘tearjerker,’ and it’s not that,” Plunkett says of The Notebook. “It’s about an ordinary couple who lives out their lives with love, loyalty, and honor. It’s universal.” Nodding, Harewood says simply, “The best parts are all the parts! Every night is different, but it’s a profound, exciting, and visceral response, and our audiences are not ashamed of that. This show cannot be put in a box. It’s everything.”

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