DiCaprio Delights in Crime and Punishment: The Little Raskol

New York, October 22, 2007 -- From curtain up to final bow, the merriment and music never fade throughout Malcolm Purino's fabulous new production titled Crime and Punishment: The Little Raskol, which premiered Saturday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on West 46th Street.

This hearty comedic remake of the classic novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky casts a bright new light on desolation, despair and moral imbroglios, spicing the bland fare of the Russian intelligentsia with a unique dash of American zest.

Leading man Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of the guilt-ridden but ultimately redeemed Raskolnikov flaunts a hitherto unwitnessed flair for melody and step in this all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza, and is not to be missed.

The plot remains generally faithful to the Dostoevsky original, with a few minor tweaks selected to bring the full drama of the story closer to the modern American psyche and to create openings for the production's rousing song and dance numbers.

The action of the drama is moved from dreary St. Petersburg to sunny Santa Barbara. Raskolnikov is still a poor and disturbed student, but now a college sophomore at the University of California grappling with the moral conundrum of whether to pledge a fraternity filled with the braying and vapid illiterati whose company he scorns, or to descend into the yawning abyss of moral degradation that awaits him in a dingy off-campus studio apartment (he chooses the latter).

On discovering that his sister Dounia, dazzlingly portrayed by Jessica Simpson, plans to become a contestant on the reality program Who Wants to Marry My Dad in an effort to help pay Raskolnikov's tuition, the morally ambivalent Rodya decides to murder and rob the local pawnbroker, an aging, miserly crone played by Delta Burke (Steel Magnolias).

The psychic torture of Raskolnikov's dilemma – whether it is morally justifiable to take the life of a pawnbroker to save, as he sees it, the life of his sister – is brilliantly brought to life by DiCaprio in the tap-dance number "Death Ain't No Slouch for a Christian", in which he attempts to justify the killing by the twin beliefs that his sister's life will be better, and that the pawnbroker will go to heaven.

"When I bonk her on the head
then the pawnbroker be dead
and her soul will drop this mortal coi-oi-oil.

And would that be such a sin?
Oh! It's making my head spin!
It's a case for Arthur Conan Doy-oy-oyle."

The murder scene, a moment of high tension, is rendered with the mixture of drama and quirky comedic moments characteristic of the entire production, climaxed by DiCaprio's delicious "D'oh!" on discovering he has killed the pawnbroker's sister, who had not been factored into his moral calculations, as well as the pawnbroker.

DiCaprio's Raskolnikov eventually meets and falls in love with the sultry Sofya Semyonovna, Sonia, a prostitute played by the lovely Shannen Doherty, who is nude throughout the production. On discovering that she, against all odds, has been smitten by his disturbed warbling and hypnotic tap-dancing, the redeemed Rodya bursts into a song of confession and absolution, featuring the immortal lines,

"She grabbed my nuts, I spilled my guts,
and everything's a peach, a lark, a dream.

I love her true, she digs me too,
And now my soul is squeaky-squeaky clean."

A cunning combination of high comedy, brilliant musical numbers, expert choreography and compelling stage presences, Crime and Punishment: The Little Raskol is probably the highlight of this Broadway season. Don't miss it.

Crime and Punishment: The Little Raskol
Adapted from the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th Street, Manhattan
Tickets: $55-$90

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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