Unsung heroes of the everyday get a chance to belt it out in revue set for Philly premiere

 Triumph Baptist Church in Philadelphia will present the musical 'Alive!' featuring the talents of singers 55 years and older. (Alive 55, Kickin')

Triumph Baptist Church in Philadelphia will present the musical 'Alive!' featuring the talents of singers 55 years and older. (Alive 55, Kickin')

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.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.