About a year ago, Samuel Perlman had a hell of an idea. Or rather, an idea about Hell.

Perlman, a senior music major at Northwestern University, decided that Dante’s “Inferno,” a 14th century Italian poem about a journey through the underworld, would make a heck of a musical comedy, or, rather, you know, a hell of a musical comedy.

“The idea seemed crazy,” Perlman told Evanston Now.

“But so did an an 830-page biography of Alexander Hamilton,” Perlman said, and we all know how that turned out on stage.

So Perlman, a clarinet performer and musical composer, set about to turn Dante Alighieri’s epic into something really hot … a musical, full of catchy tunes and lots of laughs.

The goal now is to raise money to produce an album, and then try to get the play on stage beyond Northwestern.

At first, the raw material, about a trip through the nine circles of Hell, may not seem like a bucket of yucks. The circles include greed, fraud, treachery, and other rather unpleasant conditions.

But Perlman said that actually the “Inferno” was “hilarious,” despite all the rather obtuse (to us) “Renaissance language.”

And so, with Perlman knocking out the music, and NU student lyricists Mitchell Huntly and Libby Hatton crafting the words, “Abandon All Hope: A Musical Comedy” was born.

Andy Hartman (horns on) as Satan.

The phrase “abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” comes from the inscription on the gates of Hell in Dante’s poem.

Of course, Satan is a character. And Dante belts out “What Hell Needs,” one of the original tunes.

Perlman has experience getting laughs from the classics. He was music director for the recent NU student production of “Something Rotten!,” a farce about the production of the world’s first musical set in Shakespeare’s day.

Perlman said “Something’s Rotten!” served as an inspiration for “Abandon All Hope,” but the last thing he’s doing is the same thing all over.

The students have already produced a version of their musical through Northwestern’s American Music Theater Project, as part of a “capstone” project for school. There was a semi-staged reading, sort of a live radio play, with 14 actors and three musicians.

Andy Hartman (horns off) as Cassius, Tano Barendsen-Rossi as Judas and Ryder McDaniel as Brutus.

They now have a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise $12,000 to produce a fully orchestrated album, which would then be pitched to investors in the hope of getting the show underwritten.

The goal is to make it to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. A bigger goal is Chicago, or even New York.

Perlman stressed that you don’t have to know anything about Dante to have a hell of a good time at the show.

In fact, he said that there’s even an upbeat ending, a bit of hope in “Abandon All Hope.”

And, he said you will laugh. After all, this is a comedy. A Divine Comedy at that.

For more information on show and the fundraising campaign, contact abandonallhopenu@gmail.com.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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