Family-friendly play combines Black culture, Maya Angelou and music

If shadows on the wall and noises down the hall don’t frighten you, “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” might be worth seeing. Charlotte is one of just four cities where the play can be seen, and it made its premiere at Children’s Theater over the weekend. 

With elements of singing, hip-hop and spoken word, the family-friendly play is suitable for adults and little ones alike. 

About the show

“Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” is largely based on the Maya Angelou poem of the same name. Playwright, choreographer, director, and performer Paige Hernandez adapted the play from Angelou’s work.

With just one act, a 60-minute runtime, and just four cast members, the show comprises four stories that play on the themes of bravery in Angelou’s poem. One story follows a boxer preparing for a challenging match, one journeys with a dancer walking home at night, another follows a young man afraid to swim, and one centers on a gamer struggling to complete a difficult level. 

Throughout the show, the cast members ask the audience to sing and dance along with them, making for an interactive experience. 

Choosing a favorite

Of the stories, my favorite was “Story 2,” about a lone dancer walking home alone who is forced to face her fear of the dark. In addition, she has a hard time fitting in at school and finding friends who appreciate her dancing. 

Photos courtesy of The Rose Theater – Omaha. Photography by Audrey Wardian.

Her story coincides with the eighth stanza of Angelou’s poem, “Panthers in the park, strangers in the dark, they don’t frighten me at all.”

This segment has a lot of charm, from the snippets of humor to the hip-hop choreography to the background sounds of the streets of New York.

What surprised me

Despite being performed for a much younger audience — Children’s Theater rated the show for ages five and up — the lessons aren’t watered down and can be beneficial for the adults in the audience as well. 

Photos courtesy of The Rose Theater – Omaha. Photography by Audrey Wardian.

This especially stands in the third story about a Black man and his fear of swimming, which one of the other characters refers to as “daddy fears,” or a fear passed down from father to son. 

The play did a great job implementing heavier themes of generational trauma and racism in a way its younger audience could understand while also sharing lessons and advice that were easy to digest. 

What I wish was different

As each story is introduced, the cast members recite lines from Angelou’s poem. It works well as a way to transition from scene to scene and help move the story forward. 

However, I didn’t find it as effective when the stanzas were recited during each story. 

It felt a little out of place among the characters’ charming banter and catchy tunes that subtly convey the theme of the story. 

Final verdict

“Life Doesn’t Frighten Me,” does a great job of paying tribute to Maya Angelou’s work and Black culture. For some audience members, it may even introduce them to her work for the first time. 

The characters’ mannerisms, like dapping each other up and hyping each other up, feel authentically and intentionally Black. The same goes for the music, which has a very jazzy theme to it.

The show’s themes are refined enough for young children to understand but not so simplified that adults would be bored. The adults in my audience, even the ones that came without children, all seemed to enjoy the show as much as the little ones. 

Drink of the night

Drink? It’s a kid’s show. Plan for water.

If you go

  • Location: Children’s Theater
  • Dates: Nov. 4 – Nov. 19
  • Cost: $17- $24

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