Several years ago, theater producer Vy Higginsen was casting for a new musical, “Mama, I Want to Sing,” and had to find singers to fill two roles for older character. She was overwhelmed by the talent who came to audition.
“They were all good, but I could only hire one of two people for this show,” she recalled. “But I had another show in mind.”
That other show turned out of be “Alive! 55+ and Kickin’,” a revue of gospel, pop, and R&B songs, stitched together with stories of survival and redemption. Those stories came from the singers themselves; Higginsen adapted the real lives of the cast members who, for example, spent 40 years in prison or ignored their singing talent in order to be a single mother.
“These are not trained actors. To have them tell other people’s stories wasn’t going to work,” said Higginsen. “Telling their own stories was going to be a lot more authentic.”
Collectively, these stories trace the African-American experience in the late-20th century, told through music.
“This is the sound of the human voice, and how you sing the song that is particularly unique to the African-American experience. It’s a total black experience in sound, in music and lyrics,” she said.
“Alive! 55+ and Kickin'” has toured regularly over four years, often in churches and community centers. Saturday’s performance in Philadelphia — its first in the city — will be at the Triumph Baptist Church in the Hunting Park neighborhood.