Dorian Harewood Returns To Broadway In ‘The Notebook’ After Almost 50 Years

The veteran film and TV actor on his role in 'The Notebook,' his first Broadway show in 46 years.

Dorian Harewood as older Noah Calhoun in The Notebook the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

For its engagement at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, The Notebook has added one last important postscript: Dorian Harewood, absent from Broadway for 46 years, is now costarring with the inestimable Maryann Plunkett in this sentimental saga of a long-running love story. A rousing “Welcome Back!” bash was staged for him March 22nd in the Eugenia Room of Sardi’s where his caricature was unveiled and added to the many that wallpapered that room. The whole Notebook cast turned out to wish him well and celebrate Harewood’s return to the Main Stem.

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Harewood was properly verklempt by the experience. “Overwhelmed,” he tells Observer. “I certainly never thought I’d ever be on the Sardi’s Wall of Fame when I came to New York 52 years ago.”

Dorian Harewood and his wife Nancy Harewood for the Wall of Fame ceremony at Sardi’s on March 22, 2024 in New York City. Courtesy of Katz PR

He arrived here a singer in late 1972 and, with Tommy Tune luck, landed a show right off the bat: Two Gentlemen of Verona, which famously won the Tony over Follies. It is also where he met his wife, Nancy Ann McCurry, though they didn’t start seriously dating until their second show together, a musical by Hal David and Michel Legand called Brainchild which closed on the road.

The two married on Valentine’s Day of 1979. Counting the courtship, Harewood figures that they’ve been in each other’s lives for half a century, which, he points out, is eight more years than the couple in The Notebook. “The timelessness of that relationship is what I share with my wife,” he says. “I think we’ve been together in past incarnations, so we remain strong. If you’re meant to be together, you will stay together.”

The Notebook—musicalized by Ingrid Michaelson (songs) and Bekah Brunstetter (book) from Nicholas Sparks’ novel and the hugely popular 2004 Nick Cassavetes movie—tracks a relationship through the years till Alzheimer’s and death do them part. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams (currently Broadway-bound in Mary Jane, which opens later this month) played the teenaged Noah and Allie who initiate the love match; Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes’s mother) and James Garner were the adult Noah and Allie who see it through. 

The three generations of Noah and Allie (from left) in The Notebook: John Cardoza and Jordan Tyson; Ryan Vasquez and Joy Woods; Dorian Harewood and Maryann Plunkett. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

On Broadway, a middle-aged couple has been inserted and there are often three Noahs and three Allies onstage at the same time, with the actors playing them racially mixed. Schelle Williams, who co-directed the show with Michael Greif, calls this ploy “color-conscious casting.” To Harewood, it means going beyond the surface to look at what’s inside. “Basically, it’s the vitality of love itself, the universality of the human experience. That’s why the casting of the show is so unique. It gets the audience past the outer visuals of two people.”

Broadway, Harwood says, has made “much progress” in this regard, though, “there’s still a long way for human beings to go. I would call it a human evolution.” 

Assessing his own career, Harewood leans toward modesty. To hear him tell it, he owes it all to two things: taking the advice of a good woman and being in a flop show at just the right time.

First, and emphatically foremost, of the female advisers was Hollywood legend Bette Davis. Joshua Logan urged her to have a go at a musical based on her 1945 film The Corn Is Green, which itself had been based on Emlyn Williams’ play about a schoolmarm bringing enlightenment to a Welsh coal miner. The ill-fated musical was Miss Moffat, with the Welsh coal miner transformed into a Southern sharecropper. 

That was the role Harewood, fresh from Two Gentlemen of Verona, auditioned for and won. Afterward, Davis “told me she loved my singing in the audition, but she also said, during the acting part of the audition, she really liked what I was doing as an actor.” She asked if he’d ever considered simply acting. “I hadn’t thought of that because singing was my calling card. She said, ‘Your instincts are very similar to mine. At least explore dramatic acting. You would be cheating yourself if you didn’t. ’ I said, ‘Well, coming from you, I certainly will.’ I told her after our project, I would look into it.”“Our project” ended early—in Philadelphia. New to the rigors of stage acting, Bette had bitten off more than she could chew. The cover story was that she’d hurt her back and couldn’t continue. The show stopped there, and Harewood was off like a shot to New York for his first acting job.

He got snapped up for the male lead in a play called Don’t Call Back, which would mark the final stage appearance of Arlene Francis. Don’t Call Back didn’t call back, folding the night it opened.

The good news: that one performance won Harewood a Theater World Award as Most Promising Newcomer. More good news: During previews, film producers from Los Angeles caught his act and hired him for his first film in California—a 1975 television-movie called Foster & Laurie. Davis, proud of her protégé, insisted on picking up his Theater World Award for him. 

Harwood (second from right) in William Friedkin’s 1997 remake of 12 Angry Men. From left: Jack Lemmon, Hume Cronyn, Mykelti Williamson (standing), Edward James Olmos, William L. Petersen, Courtney B. Vance (head of table), Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Tony Danza (standing), Armin Mueller-Stahl (with glasses), Dorian Harewood and James Gandolfini. Getty Images

She continued to mentor him and help him negotiate the notoriously choppy waters of movie-making. So far, he has amassed 184 screen credits, among them Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, John Schlesinger’s The Falcon & the Snowman, William Friedkin’s remake of 12 Angry Men for Showtime, and a long-running TV role on 7th Heaven

But back to his female advisers: his most successful New York show (478 performances) is Streamers, written by David Rabe and directed by Mike Nichols, and he’s the first to admit he would never have done it had his wife (then fiancée) not insisted. “Nancy’s a fine actress and knew I could do it before I did.” He played, among a group of paratroopers, a pathological misfit who taunts some and kills one. 

Another lady Harewood learned from was Chita Rivera when they toured in her Tony-winning Kiss of the Spider Woman. “Chita was just indefatigable,” he remembers. “Her energy was unbelievable. To watch her perform with these young dancers at her age—whatever it was in 1996—and she out-danced all of them! Also, she was also so supportive of everyone—myself included.”

In recent years, Harewood settled into doing voice overs and avoided auditioning. Enter another female advisor: manager Lesley Brander, who booted him back to Broadway. “I looked at the script and said, ‘Okay, I’ll go,’” he says. 

He found in The Notebook a real challenge, playing the lover of someone who, suffering from dementia, sometimes doesn’t remember you and is suddenly terrified. He credits costar Maryann Plunkett with making it work. “In our working relationship on stage, every performance is unique unto itself,” he says. “We do it fresh every performance. For me, The Notebook says that marriage is a commitment to love, and that love dictates a long-lasting relationship, overcoming the ups and downs of life itself. All marriages have challenges. My own has, but the strength of our love keeps us together and invigorates us.”

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Dorian Harewood Returns To Broadway In ‘The Notebook’ After Almost 50 Years