Speakeasy with Outkast’s André Benjamin
Outkasts André Benjamin remains the headmaster of “Class of 3000,” even though Cartoon Network ceased production of the animated school daze comedy after 26 episodes. “Class of 3000” is transferring to a new medium, however, as the Alliance Childrens Theatre presents the world premiere stage adaptation beginning Fri., March 6. Benjamin, the show’s creator, executive producer and vocal star as the inspirational Willy Wonka-esque music teacher Sunny Bridges, discusses the TV series origins and its transition to the stage.
Did you ever have an inspirational teacher like Sunny?
Ive had a few in my lifetime. What inspired the character (played by Atlantas Sinatra Onyewuchi at the Alliance) was the fact that I wouldnt want to be Andre 3000 forever. Id eventually want to leave the stage. I never thought about being a music teacher, though. I wanted to be an art teacher, because I also draw and paint, and I remember art teachers who were like Sunny. My guitar teacher right now, Zaza, hes a teacher like that, too. Hes a fun time, and I can enjoy that, even though Im 33 years old.
How did you originate “Class of 3000?”
I was approached by Cartoon Network first. Once they gave me an offer, they wanted to see what show I wanted to create. Originally it was going to be an Adult Swim show, but the more I got into it, I started shaping it into a mainstream, prime-time kind of thing.
You provided a new song for every episode, five of which appear in the stage play. Was it different writing songs for a young audience, compared to your usual audience?
I wasnt trying to water down the music aspect of the show just because it was for kids. You watch old “Peanuts” or “Fat Albert” shows, they werent necessarily kids songs. On “Peanuts,” youre listening to jazz by Vince Guaraldi. I want to make sure that kids had something to listen to that wasnt teeny bopper songs — although we would do those, too, if they fit into the story. I wanted to give them a little jazz, ragtime, blues, funk music, with the hope that if kids heard those kinds of music later, theyd say, “Hey, I remember this kind of song!” I thought that was fitting, since I play a music teacher. I also wanted to show how different kinds of songs, like classical music, could be reinterpreted in new ways, which is what I like to do with my other kinds of music.