This is Love! A Musical Supervisor Champions the Score of Broadway's THE NOTEBOOK

Carmel Dean on her work for Broadway's The Notebook and more.

By: May. 25, 2024
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This is Love! A Musical Supervisor Champions the Score of Broadway's THE NOTEBOOK
Carmel Dean. Photo by Bruce Gilkas.

As we all know, the 23/24 Broadway theatre season has been one of the busiest in a very long time with many new plays and musicals opening within a short period. One of those shows was The Notebook. It features a score by pop writer Ingrid Michaelson and a book by Bekah Brunsetter. The show had a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago where it was met with unanimous rave reviews.

The same can not be said for the reaction in New York where some  of the press pretty much ravaged Ingrid Michaelson’s score and the Tony Award committee snubbed it for a nomination. I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion – audiences, however, are tearing the seats out.

Carmel Dean has been with The Notebook from the beginning. She serves as the show’s musical supervisor, arranger, co-vocal arranger (with Ingrid Michaelson), and co-orchestrator (with John Clancy). Her past credits include The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee, If/Then, American Idiot, Funny Girl, and Vanities. You might remember seeing her on the podium here in DC conducting the pre-Broadway tryout of If/Then.

As you will read, this spunky Aussie is basically running the music department for The Notebook, which is no small feat.

One of the main purposes of this interview with Carmel Dean is to champion a score that, in my opinion, has been unjustly treated by many. Maybe the idea of a live string section complete with actual harp is off-putting to those that nowadays are used to everything sounding like a recording.

Yes, “this is love” for Ingrid Michaelson’s score for The Notebook.

I hope that what Carmel Dean has to say will maybe convince you to make up your own mind about this show. Audiences have the power to override negative reviews. Wicked has been doing it for 20 years now.

With the many choices on Broadway, The Notebook is one of those shows that deserves not to be buried because of negative press and lack of awards. Ingrid Michaelson’s score is as good and as varied as any I’ve heard in all “My Days” and Carmel Dean’s work is pretty terrific. Please consider adding The Notebook to your NY theatre viewing. It’s a show that deserves to stay for many seasons to come.

How did you get involved with The Notebook?

I was contacted by producer Kurt Deutsch. I think it was in 2018 or 2019.  Kurt is an old friend and colleague of mine.

We first met when we were doing the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee cast album. He said that he was producing this musical adaptation of The Notebook and Ingrid Michelson would be writing the music.  He asked whether I would be interested in meeting with her to see if it was something I would like to work on as an arranger, orchestrator, and musical supervisor. And, of course, I listened to the music and loved it. I went and met Ingrid and we walked out of our meeting arm in arm. That’s when I knew I had a new best friend. 

This is Love! A Musical Supervisor Champions the Score of Broadway's THE NOTEBOOK
L-R The Notebook's composer Ingrid Michaelson and Carmel Dean.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

After hearing Ingrid Michaelson’s score for the first time, what were your initial impressions?

I thought it was so heartfelt and emotional. I thought it was music that I hadn't heard on Broadway before, which was really compelling to me. She writes in this beautiful pop style that lends itself to theatre, but she hadn't written for theatre before. I knew that it would be a great opportunity for me to use my skills as an arranger to help theatricalize the music that was already so deep. I fell in love with her music right away.

Did Ingrid Michaelson come in with definite ideas about how she wanted the show to sound?

Oh yes! Ingrid is a great musician and also a great theatre lover. She studied theatre, so she knows a lot about this art form. She was also open to suggestions, which just made it a perfect collaboration.

It's actually been my favorite collaboration because of those two aspects. She knew what she wanted, but she also was willing to try new things. She's always had a vision for the music of the show. The speed at which she was able to write songs for these characters is just a testament to the fact that she knew what she wanted to write.

You have several titles on The Notebook, the most mysterious one being Musical Supervisor. Can you please tell us what that job entails?

It's the million-dollar question. A musical supervisor is an umbrella term for a lot of different facets in the music department. I am in charge of the music department, and all of the personnel, as well as the musical creativity.

Supervisors will often also be arrangers and/or orchestrators. The position has become more popular in the last 20 years as new musicals are written by writers who are not necessarily trained theatre composers. It’s a supervisor’s job to guide them through the theatrical process.

And then, of course, there’s the fun stuff like scheduling band rehearsals and being on top of auditions.

This is Love! A Musical Supervisor Champions the Score of Broadway's THE NOTEBOOK
L-R Carmel Dean with her co-Orchestrator for The Notebook John Clancy.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

You co-orchestrated The Notebook with John Clancy. How did you decide who would score what, and was it you and John that decided on the instrumentation?

John Clancy is one of the greatest orchestrators, I think, working today.  It was such a joy to work with him.

I've been on this piece since the beginning. Part of the development of this show was obviously having a lot of readings and workshops along the way. And so, before we knew we were doing a full production, we would do readings and I would bring in a guitar and a cello and just start to sprinkle in very light orchestrations to help shape the music towards a more expanded sound.

When I started working with Clancy, who has a wealth of experience as a Broadway orchestrator, he had some incredible suggestions. It was his idea to add the live harp. Clancy, Ingrid, and I put our heads together though. We knew we wanted this to be, obviously – a pop sounding score – but keep it as theatrical as possible.

We decided not to use a drum kit. We wanted it to have more of a chamber musical –  a more chamber pop sound. And so, it was a real collaboration that was led by Clancy.

I would start with my piano vocal scores, which had a lot of these preexisting cello and guitar lines from the previous workshops. I would add other melodic lines, counter melodies, rhythmic ideas, and then Clancy would shape it all, and add his extraordinary ability to it. It really was sort of a step-by-step process. It was such a satisfying collaboration.

There has been a lot of – in my opinion – undeserved vitriol towards Ingrid Michaelson’s score for The Notebook, both in some of the reviews and Tony Award nominations. This is something I will never understand. Why do you think the reaction was as it was, and what do you say to those who, in my opinion, made a huge mistake?

I think the biggest shock was that the reviews in Chicago were completely the opposite. They led with how beautiful and brilliant and fresh Ingrid's music was. It'll probably be one of the great mysteries that I carry with me through the rest of this career of mine.

One reason, if I could try to guess, would be New Yorkers deciding that they like things one way. There's a gatekeeper element. There's the school of people who think The Notebook is fluff, who think it's common, who think it's not high art, and I think, perhaps we are victim to that school of thinking with certain critics and award nominators.

But again, I don't understand it because how can you go from having great reviews in one city when I think the show has only become better since we were in Chicago? I think we tightened it. I think the storytelling's clearer. I think the musical changes we made are smarter. I think it's unlike any other score on Broadway.

And I I've been in the audience 50 times where I'll see people turn to each other and say, “Oh my God, this music, it's gorgeous.” They're having this visceral reaction. I can't explain why audiences are being so opened up and the “powers that be” were not.

This is Love! A Musical Supervisor Champions the Score of Broadway's THE NOTEBOOK
L-R Carmel Dean, Ingrid Michaelson, and John Clancy.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

What is your favorite musical moment from The Notebook?

There are several because how do you choose your favorite child?

I think it culminates in the acapella moment in “Coda” where they all sing, “Where do we go when we go? Will you remember?”  The band drops out and then there’s the moment when the band comes back in. Then the curtain rises on the band. It is truly thrilling every time, and I've seen it, like, a hundred times. I still get chills every time. And I think that's the power of music and theatre right there.

Many audience members hold reviews as the holy grail to inform their decision to see, or not see, a Broadway show. What do you want to say to the audience member that needs swaying to go see The Notebook?

I think that we, as audience members, need to be empowered to make up our own minds, and not listen to what other people have said – unless they're people that we trust and people we know have the same taste and know what we enjoy. I would say for The Notebook, the thing that I've been most proud of, and impressed by, is seeing how this story has been so radically and beautifully adapted for the stage format.  It is not the book. It is not the movie. It is truly something that could only exist on the stage.

We have three couples and they're interracial. We go through three different time periods, which are not the same time periods as the book or the movie. It is a brand-new adaptation. And I think it really shows the magic and the power of theatre and what we can achieve when we suspend our disbelief.

Special thanks to everyone at Boneau/Bryan-Brown and one of The Notebook's producers Kurt Deutsch for their assistance in coordinating this interview.


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