The producers and creative team behind Broadway’s upcoming musical adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook say they are “encouraged” by the author’s “strong statement of support of the LGBTQ+ community today,” and note in a statement of their own that they have “complete freedom to create a very new piece of art from the source material of the book” that “that reflects our core values of diversity and inclusion.”
The pointed assertion of artistic independence came just several hours after Sparks released a lengthy statement (read it below) in which he took issue with last week’s Daily Beast article that portrayed the hugely successful romance writer as homophobic and racist.
Included in the Daily Beast article – which detailed a lawsuit that pits Sparks and the faith-based Epiphany School of Global Studies (which he co-founded) against former headmaster Saul Benjamin. The fired Benjamin is suing Sparks and the Epiphany board over his dismissal, and claims, among other things, that Sparks made homophobic remarks. The Daily Beast article quotes and reprints messages written by Sparks that suggest the author was opposed to the inclusion of sexual orientation in the school’s non-discrimination policies.
Sparks released a statement last week focusing mostly on the legal aspects of Benjamin’s case, but today’s statement tackled the subject of his reprinted emails. In response to the most recent statement, the Notebook musical’s team and producers – producers Kevin McCollum and Kurt Deutsch, composer Ingrid Michaelson, book writer Bekah Brunstetter and director Michael Grief – released the following response:
“We are encouraged that Mr. Sparks has made a strong statement of support of the LGBTQ+ community today. The Notebook musical team has been given complete freedom to create a very new piece of art from the source material of the book and our mission for the past 3 years has been and continues to be to create a story of love and humanity that reflects our core values of diversity and inclusion.“ – The Notebook producers and creative team
The musical Notebook adaptation, announced just this past January, will feature music and lyrics by “Girls Chase Boys” hit-maker Michaelson, with a book by playwright and This Is Us supervising producer Brunstetter.
Vanessa Hudgens is set to take part in the first staged reading of the musical at Vassar and New York Stage & Film’s prestigious annual play development incubator called the Powerhouse. Others reportedly set to take part in the one-time-only reading on June 23 are Jelani Alladin, Nicholas Belton, Candy Buckley, Antonio Cipriano, Hailey Kilgore and James Naughton. Rent director Michael Greif will direct.
The 1996 novel had previously been turned into a motion picture in 2004 (photo above).
Here is the statement released by Sparks earlier today, followed by a statement made in response by the former headmaster’s attorney. And for more background on this story, go here.
Here is today’s Sparks statement in full:
“As someone who has spent the better part of my life as a writer who understands the power of words, I regret and apologize that mine have potentially hurt young people and members of the LGBTQ community, including my friends and colleagues in that community.
“Thirteen years ago, I founded the Epiphany School of Global Studies anchored in the commandment to love God and your neighbor as you love yourself. I am currently engaged in a several years-long lawsuit with a former headmaster of the school. As a result of that suit, several e-mails from me have been released to the public that on the surface, portray me as someone intolerant of having an LGBTQ club at the school. Unfortunately, the ongoing lawsuit constrains what I can reveal about the specific circumstances six years ago that gave rise to these emails, but I very much want to articulate my beliefs and share where my heart is on this matter.
“I believe in the school’s founding principle of loving God and thy neighbor as thyself, and that includes members of the LGBTQ community. I believe in and unreservedly support the principle that all individuals should be free to love, marry and have children with the person they choose, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. This is and has always been a core value of mine. I am an unequivocal supporter of gay marriage, gay adoption, and equal employment rights and would never want to discourage any young person or adult from embracing who they are.
“When in one of my emails I used language such as “there will never be an LGBT club” at Epiphany, l was responding heatedly to how the headmaster had gone about initiating this club – like most schools, Epiphany has procedures and policies for establishing any student club. My concern was that if a club were to be founded, it be done in a thoughtful, transparent manner with the knowledge of faculty, students and parents – not in secret, and not in a way that felt exceptional. I only wish I had used those exact words. Similarly, when I referred to a prior headmaster addressing the presence of gay students “quietly and wonderfully,” I meant that he supported them in a straightforward, unambiguous way – NOT that he in any way encouraged students to be silent about their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“In 2013 I was embroiled in a rapidly escalating conflict and besieged by vociferous complaints about a wide range of incidents involving the headmaster’s behavior. Ironically, as a writer I should have understood the power and enduring nature of my words, but like many people sent emails off in haste under stressful and tumultuous conditions. My greatest regret, however, is not my lack of deliberation, but first and foremost that I failed to be more unequivocal about my support for the students in question.
“It’s never been my intent to be unresponsive to the needs of the LGBTQ or any minority community. In fact the opposite is true, and I trust my actions moving forward will confirm that.
Sincerely, Nicholas Sparks”
Following the release today of Sparks’ new statement, Lawrence M. Pearson, attorney for former headmaster Benjamin, responded:
“The emails continue to speak for themselves and demonstrate Nicholas Sparks’s unmistakable lack of support for an LGBT club or the students affected by anti-LGBTQ+ bullying at the school. This new and belated statement by Mr. Sparks will be subject to cross-examination at trial, where it will be contrasted with other statements he has made on the subject of LGBTQ+ inclusion. We are confident that a jury will find Mr. Sparks and the other Defendants liable for their unlawful actions in August.”