Theater Review - Class of 3000 LIVE has high notes and flats

From 2006-2008, the Cartoon Network’s “Class of 3000” was the brainchild of André Benjamin, who voiced the main character and provided appropriately funky compositions that could be described as OutKast Jr.

The show also embraced surreal sight gags that would seem to defy translation from animation to live theater, but Alliance Children’s Theatre artistic director Rosemary Newcott didn’t flinch from adapting and directing “Class of 3000.” The world premiere of Class of 3000 LIVE primarily takes place in and around an Atlanta music school, and includes elaborate visual jokes such as a giant squid’s intrusive tentacles and a dog sailing across the stage on a little boat (actually a remote-controlled car in disguise).

What do giant squids and sailing dogs have to do with the music school? Practically nothing, but “Class of 3000” frequently emphasized loopy humor and showbiz satire at the expense of plot or character. On stage, Class of 3000 LIVE proves as exuberant but insubstantial as its source material.

Sinatra Onyewuchi offers an appropriately laid-back turn as Benjamin’s animated alter ego, megastar musician Sunny Bridges, who’s such a cool cat his posture is practically diagonal, as befits a role with cartoon roots. Not unlike Dave Chappelle’s abandonment of his hit TV series, Sunny ditches his high-profile life at the height of his popularity. Meanwhile, a class of art school prodigies, including impoverished percussionist Li’l D (Bernard Jones), tries to coax Sunny to be their teacher.

Mirroring the show, the students prove to be predictable stereotypes, including an aggressive African-American girl (Sharisa Whatley), a lily white Buckhead swell (Justin Tanner), an uptight Asian (Jonathan Davis), etc. Wendy Melkonian nearly steals the show with her funny but familiar ditzy shtick as a tween hippie. Instead of revealing much about the educational process, Class reflects Sunny’s/Benjamin’s perspective as kind of a musical Willy Wonka, and some of the play’s best jokes occur when the kids explore his sprawling mansion.

The musical numbers brim with energy, particularly “Do the Crayon,” which features giant-sized Crayolas. Kat Conley’s set has a witty cartoonishness, with Little Five Points storefronts evoking the ramshackle look of, say, “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” With its puppets and cardboard automobiles, Class of 3000 LIVE earns extra credit for creativity, but the play’s lack of dramatic stakes or interesting relationships keeps it from living up to its sky-high potential.

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