5 Things Ingrid Michaelson Learned Composing the Broadway Musical ‘The Notebook’

Since 2005, singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson’s career has flourished. Starting with her 2005 debut Slow the Rain, she has released a total of nine albums – two of them have hit the Top 5 and two others have gone Top 20. Her songs “The Way I Am” and “Girls Chase Boys” are certified Platinum, and her duet with friend Sara Bareilles, “Winter Song,” went to No. 2 in Ireland, was performed during the 2010 United States National Christmas Tree Lighting, and was licensed to television series including Grey’s Anatomy and American Horror Story.

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Now Michaelson is exploring a new frontier: composing a Broadway show. Specifically, the musical adaptation of the novel-turned-film The Notebook, which has fared well on Broadway since opening last month and which just released an official cast soundtrack via streaming, with a CD due in mid-June. The show starts with elderly Noah and Allie in a nursing home. Noah begins to read entries from a well-worn notebook to Allie, but because of her dementia she is unaware it is about their love story. As he progresses, the narrative chronicles how their union has endured through different trials and tribulations.

Michaelson talked to American Songwriter about the process of working on the show. Here are her five takeaways from composing the music and lyrics for The Notebook.

It Takes Time and Patience

“I had a hard time believing that I could tackle such a massive piece,” Michaelson recalls. “I think that’s why it took so long to even admit to myself that I wanted to try. But once I started writing the music, I couldn’t stop. And having an amazing music team around me to help shape everything was invaluable. I wrote it over the course about seven years while we worked on the piece. But it was in starts and stops, not constant.”

She Channeled Previous Broadway Acting Experience into Her Composing

For several weeks in 2017, Michaelson played the role of Sonya Rostova in the musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 alongside composer and interim lead Dave Malloy. “That was such a highlight of my career, getting to perform on Broadway,” Michaelson declares. “I definitely soaked up a lot of the intricacies and different choices that Dave Malloy and [director] Rachel Chavkin and the rest of the team brought to that show. While The Notebook is very different from Comet, I wanted our show to have those interesting intricate nooks and crannies.” One specific “nook” she says she loved was “Dave Malloy’s use of ensemble singing as a soundscape.”

Support from an Experienced Voice Is Helpful

Michaelson’s friend and fellow songwriter/performer Sara Bareilles made a splash on Broadway with her musical Waitress in 2016. It ran for four years and was nominated for four Tony Awards and two Olivier Awards. Bareilles even starred in it at one point. While Michaelson didn’t say if her friend gave her any specific advice, she notes, “She told me I could do it when I doubted that I could. Her support has been a constant.”

Songs Can Morph into Something Unexpected

Michaelson says “My Days,” the big number for the character of Middle Allie near the end of The Notebook, was the hardest for her to compose. It started out as a different tune altogether, and she had a few songs written out that did not feel right. But once she “angled my mind a certain way, ‘My Days’ fell out of me pretty quickly. I just had to get my mind set in the right direction.”

“I wanted to write a song about choosing how to spend your days on this earth in the best way possible,” Michaelson explains. “Not make it song about which guy to choose. I went through five different songs before landing on ‘My Days.’ We just shot a music video for it, and I was reminded of how incredible the orchestrations are and the powerhouse that is Joy Woods, who plays Middle Allie. The video is so good.”

Sound Design Can Influence Performance

Michaelson notes there is a lot of water in the show, and they wanted “to play with ‘watery’ sounds. Arpeggiated harp. Deep swelling cello lines. And there are lots of melodies in the songs that run down like water running down rocks.” The rain scene in The Notebook, she says, “influenced the way the ensemble sings these overlapping and time signature-swapping ‘ahhs’ to evoke cascading water along with the tension between Noah and Allie.”

In a funny coincidence, The Notebook film co-star Rachel McAdams just opened her dramatic Broadway show Mary Jane a mere two blocks from the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, where The Notebook is playing. “I want her to come see the show,” Michaelson enthuses. “Maybe we can even get her to stand in the rain on stage. I’ll even do it with her. I lift her up!”

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Photo by Joe Mazza

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