Musical theater can be a sucker for a romantic tale, whether it’s about obsessive devotion, idealized passion, or lost loves. “The Notebook,” based on Nicholas Sparks‘ bestselling, 1996 debut novel, has elements of all three — but they’re thinly rendered here in this Hallmark movie of a musical, awash in sentimentality and drenched in wistful longings and wish fulfillment.

The huge fanbase of the romance novel and the 2004 hit film might initially boost the box office, but it will take more than recreating that iconic rainstorm to win over other theatergoers looking for more than clichés, tropes and triggers.

The story begins in a nursing home where an elderly Noah (Darian Harewood) faithfully reads from his journal to his wife Allie (Maryann Plunkett), who has dementia. Noah hopes the tale in the titular notebook, which chronicles their great love story, will stir her memory and bring her back to him, at least one more time. Is there any doubt that it will happen by show’s end?

The notebook’s narrative tells of their relationship from first meeting to separation to reunion to marriage to old age. The journey is dramatized with interwoven, non-linear flashbacks, centering around their past teen selves (John Cardoza and Jordan Tyson) and then, nearly a decade later, their young-adults years (Ryan Vasquez and Joy Woods).

She’s a rich girl on summer vacation. He’s a poor local boy. She thinks he’s cute and he thinks she’s pretty. They fall instantly in love but her parents whisk the girl back home before things go much further. (Too late.)

Each thinks the other has forgotten the other and years go by. But just before her wedding to nice-guy lawyer Lon (Chase Del Ray) she decides to return to the place where it all began after seeing a newspaper article about a house he has spent years fixing up — and, as it turns out, pining for her all the while.

But to be invested in an endless love an audience has to first believe in it. In the script by Bekah Brunstetter (“This is Us”), there’s no “Titanic”-like connection between these two class-crossed lovers: no charm, no complexity, nothing special.

In essence, these two have little in common except banal exchanges and flirty gestures. He admires one of her paintings. She likes his guitar strumming. When she later accuses him of not knowing who she really is, we know what she means, though the same could be said of her about him — and of the audience about them both.

The show, which had a pandemic delay and a 2022 run at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, updates the novel’s time period from the 1940s to the 1970s and then extends to the present. But if there weren’t references about Vietnam, you would be at a loss to recognize the eras of the story — or to pinpoint the story’s locale, which the program notes as “a coastal town in the mid-Atlantic.” David Zinn and Brett J. Banakis’ set echoes that vague sense of place.

That feeling of everywhere/nowhere is reflected in the freshman score by indie singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, the singer-songwriter whose tunes were featured in TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” They’re pleasant enough, tender and often lilting with introspective lyrics. But for the stretch of a musical, there’s little variation in tone or text, which is full of on-the-nose feelings.

That obviousness, however, may be the key to its popularity — and perhaps here as well. The romantic duo comes across as blank slates on which audiences may project themselves, nostalgically bathed by summer sunsets and moonlit nights, nicely supplied by lighting designer Ben Stanton.

Certainly the novel and film underscore that identification of ordinariness (though the film’s Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling take ordinary to a different level). Perhaps this intimate, small-scale musical will do the same here, but more likely it will land better on tour where the enchantment bar is lower.

As for the production, the staging by Michael Greif (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “Next to Normal”) and Schele Williams (“The Wiz”) feels, for all its intention of intimacy, contrived and unsurprising. For a while the cross-cutting of the three couples haunting each other is intriguing but soon Katie Spelman’s choreography of past and future lives ever-circling each other simply becomes a dizzying one-note effect.

The cross-racial casting of couples nicely underscores the universality of the romance and the ease of imaginative leaps in musical theater.

Plunkett and Harewood bring quiet compassion and authenticity as the oldest Noah and Allie. Plunkett is especially poignant as she struggles for her memories with confusion, curiosity and fear, but also reveals glimpses of a wry self, too, and the person she used to be.

Vasquez and Woods are in fine voice and bring a bit of humor and charm to their reunion scene. Cardoza and Tyson, however, are stuck with the heavy lifting as the teen couple who have to begin the epic romance — but have little in script or song to launch it across the decades.

Andrea Burns as Allie’s mother (and as a head nurse) has an assured presence, but she doesn’t have a song to bring another perspective to a pivotal character, which feels like a loss. Carson Stewart brings a welcome sense of quirkiness and fun as a health care worker.

But without leading characters, story or songs that are elevated, this love story remains not only leaden but as slight as jottings in journal.

‘The Notebook’ Review: Broadway Musical of the Popular Romance Hits All-Too-Familiar Notes

Schoenfeld Theatre; 1017 seats; top non-premium $199. Opened March 14, 2024. Reviewed March 9. Running time: 2 HOURS 30 MINS.

  • Production: A presentation by Kevin McCollum, Kurt Deutsch, Jamie Wilson, Gavin Kalin, Stella La Rue, Hunter Arnold, Roy Furman, Nederlander Productions, Lams Productions, Nicole Eisenberg, Betsy Dollinger, Endeavor, Sing Out, Louise! Productions, Timothy Laczynski,  Scott Abrams/Jonathan Corr/Leslie Mayer, Bob Boyett, Emily Bock/Pam & Stephen Della Pietra, Est Productions/LTD Productions, Independent Presenters Network, Lucas McMahon in association with Chicago Shakespeare Theater of a musical in two acts by Bekah Brunstetter, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks; music and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson.
  • Crew: Directed by Michael Greif and Schele Williams; choreography by Katie Spelman; sets, David Zinn and Brett J. Banakis; costumes, Paloma Young; lighting, Ben Stanton; sound, Nevin Steinberg; projection, Lucy MacKinnon; music director, Geoffrey Ko, music coordinator, Kimberlee Wertz; orchestrations, John Clancy and Carmel Dean; musical supervision and arrangements, Carmel Dean; production stage manager, Victoria Navarro.
  • Cast: Ryan Vasquez, Joy Woods; John Cardoza, Jordan Tyson, Maryann Plunkett, Dorian Harewood, Andrea Burns, Carson Stewart, Chase Del Rey, Hillary Fisher, Dorcas Leung, Charles E. Wallace; Yassmin Alers, Alex Benoit, Jerome Harmann-Hardeman, Happy McPartlin, Juliette Ojeda, Kim Onah, Charlie Webb.