‘Crime and Punishment’ opens tonight

“Crime and Punishment” … the musical?

Why not? The idea may seem a little outlandish to some but it has worked before.

Producer Cameron MacKintosh set an industry precedent by molding Victor Hugo’s heavy historical epic, “Les Miserables,” into an international commercial smash.

Now Dartmouth’s own Jesse Kearney ’97 takes a stab at converting another literary masterpiece into musical theater with his Senior Fellowship project — an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”

Finally, after two years of tears and sweat, Kearney will unveil the musical for which he composed the music and wrote the lyrics and the script tonight and tomorrow night in Bentley Theater.

The musical program, consisting of selected numbers from “Crime and Punishment,” will be performed by a cast of fifteen musical actors and the musical director/piano accompanist Albina Stoianova ’97.

“Crime and Punishment” has long been a dream for Kearney who, ever since his high school days, has been determined to pen a musical.

At the suggestion of a friend during his Sophomore Summer, Kearney read the hefty novel and something clicked.

He said he related to the somber 19th-century psychological drama about guilt and redemption in a “weird way,” developing an affinity for the main character.

Rodia Raskolnikov, played by Marc Bruni ’99, is a St. Petersburg University student who, on the brink of madness, murders an old, greedy pawnbroker with the intent of “doing humanity some good.”

Kearney said he identified with Raskolnikov’s dream of being an extraordinary man.

“… I think that deep within us, we all have that [dream] and think we’re all special people who deserve the best in life,” he explained.

Kearney began work on his brainchild, and by his junior spring, presented his first draft of over 200 pages of script and score to the Senior Fellowship Committee Board in hopes of obtaining an award that would fund his work.

He recalled awaiting the board’s decision with great anticipation, worrying that the board might think the “job too much for one person.”

The general perception, Kearney said, was that “musicals are usually written by three people — the lyricist, the scriptwriter, and the composer.”

As it turned out, Kearney’s fears were unnecessary as he was granted the Senior Fellowship award at the end of his senior spring.

For expert advice, Kearney conferred with three Dartmouth instructors over the course of two years — Music Professor Jon Appleton, Associate Drama Professor of James Loehlin and Russian Professor Lev Loseff.

Kearney took great pains to receive feedback from the three, even resorting to e-mail, the postal system and facsimile to communicate with Appleton who was visiting Tokyo.

During this past winter, Kearney said he needed a break from working on “Crime and Punishment” so he could return to it with a “fresh eye.” He traveled to London for a Drama Foreign Study Program led by Loehlin.

In London, Kearney saw over 30 plays, including “Les Miserables,” which he attended with Loehlin.

The buzz surrounding Kearney’s musical, which won the Lazarus Family Musical Theater Award, has been terrific.

Loehlin,who is also the director of the upcoming “Arcadia,” cites Kearney’s “remarkable talent” and adeptness with adapting the novel.

“[Kearney] has done a very good job paring down the essential narrative… and presenting [the character relationships] clearly,” he said.

Stoianova said she was blown away by Kearney’s versatility and the sheer fact that he “is doing everything,” she said. She believes the musical “should come out as something very integral.”

She said she was especially impressed with Kearney’s “gift for melodies” which, she smilingly admitted, she and the cast cannot stop humming.

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