THE SIEGE OF THE ALAMO
Ever since I finished writing my first musical some 15 years ago, I have nursed the ambition to write something about the pioneering days of the American west. As a child I was addicted to western movies and had an insatiable appetite for the folklore of the American pioneers. Then, on a visit to San Antonio to visit a friend, I found myself wandering around the Alamo and suddenly I realized that this was America's own version of Camelot - except that this was a real story of a people who had chosen to stand and fight for their freedom even though they knew that they would almost certainly die. What particularly struck me, while looking at the names on the walls inside the Alamo, was how many of those names were of Hispanic origin - which brought home to me the fact that the fight for freedom against the rule of Mexico and Santa Anna was not just an Anglo-American concern. There were also the names of people from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Scandinavia. A real international brotherhood. And what made their story so different from other stories of heroic sacrifice - like the British Charge of the Light Brigade - was that these were free men with the freedom to choose their fate. They could surrender or die, or they could simply run away. Unlike the soldiers of the Light Brigade they had a choice. And they chose to live and die by what had then become their battle cry - liberty or death.
By the time I walked out of the Alamo on that first visit, I had already decided what my next project would be. Within a short time I was reading all the books he could on the subject and going to see Dr. Richard Winders, the curator of the Alamo, for guidance I knew I was dealing with a legend that had become sacred to many Americans, and was fully expecting some opposition from people asking who was this British guy to presume to tamper with one of the proud moments of American history. And turning it into a musical at that! But I am happy to say that Texas more than lived up to its reputation for hospitality.
Following the OVERTURE, the show begins with
THE ALAMO ANTHEM. In the next song,
William Barrett Travis, who became the final commander at The Alamo, explains his view of what true liberty is all about. But the appeal of liberty and land attracted people of varying backgrounds from all over America and beyond and I have tried to capture their pioneering spirit in captured in the song
RIDING THE WIND. The next scene shows the Mexican commander of San Antonio, General Cos, being confronted by General Burleson, the leader of a group who have just taken over the Alamo . Their confrontation is expressed in
CRY FOR INDEPENDENCE. But in Mexico, Santa Anna vows revenge on the people have dared to try to defy his rule in
SANTA ANNA’S REVENGE
Jim Bowie arrives at the Alamo with orders from Sam Houston to blow up San Antonio so that Santa Anna has nothing to recapture. But Bowie is a troubled man. His beloved wife Ursula and their son have recently died in Mexico during the plague epidemic. San Antonio had become Bowie's home after he married Ursula, the daughter of a Mexican settler whose forebears had been Spanish aristocrats. He is a man
BETWEEN TWO CULTURES, as he confesses in his first song. But Bowie's doubts about what he should do are put to rest by Juan Seguin, a long time Hispanic resident of Bexar County, who reminds him that there are many people of Mexican and Spanish descent in Texas who are just as opposed to the regime of Santa Anna as the Anglo-American inhabitants of Texas. Juan Seguin has no doubts where his loyalties lie, as he makes clear in the song
I AM A TEJANO.
Bowie sets about restoring the morale of the men at the Alamo, who - having very little to do as they wait for Santa Anna to march on San Antonio - have been growing restless and bored since they took over San Antonio from the Mexican army. One of them, Dr Grant, who owns vast tracts of land in Texas, is keen to march on Mexico and grab some more land. In the song
TIRED OF WAITING he attempts to incite the men of the Alamo to follow him on a treasure hunt in the Mexican area of Matamoros.
More than half the fighting force at San Antonio choose to follow Dr Grant, leaving barely a hundred men behind with few provisions. But Bowie is not deterred. He feels more comfortable without people like Dr Grant around. He decides that rather than blow up San Antonio, he will help restore the morale of the remaining men by getting them to fortify The Alamo. Morale grows daily and becomes even higher when the legendary Davy Crockett arrives with his Tennesse fighters, along with William Travis and his force of volunteers. Bowie introduces the new arrivals to the men at The Alamo, who include people from across the Atlantic Ocean. In the
FOREIGNERS’ SONG some of these men tell why they are there.
Also among the foreign contingent is a melancholy young Scotsman, David Wilson, who a year earlier had never set foot outside the highlands of Scotland. In the song
WHY I LEFT THE GLEN he tells how he ended up in Texas.
Like Bowie, Crockett is not quite the man he used to be. Still a formidale fighter, even though he is in his fifties, he has become disillusioned after failing to be re-elected to Congress. He has left Tennessee with the message to the electorate that they can all go to hell while he has chosen to go to Texas. The experience has also left him questioning the reality of who he really is and the legend that has grown up around him (THE LEGEND AND THE MAN)
Like most if not all of those who have come to Texas, Crockett is looking for
A PLACE IN THE SUN - which is the title of the song which closes the first half of the Alamo story.
In ACT TWO (disc 2) the story resumes with news that Santa Anna is on his way to San Antonio - much earlier than anyone expected and with an army of 4000 men, vastly outnumbering the fighting force of less than 200 at the Alamo. Appeals are sent out for reinforcements - Travis writes to many newspapers and fighting forces across America - but they know that time is not on their side and that Santa Anna will be at the walls of The Alamo before any forces from other states can reach them. The closest force is at least two days away in Goliad, where Colonel Fannin has around 200 under his command.
The sense of impending danger underlines the thoughts expressed by Micajah Autry, a writer and poet, as he writes home to his wife in the song
THINKING OF YOU.
But what of the women waiting anxiously at home for news of their men? In the next song,
APART, one expresses the thoughts that many of these women may have been thinking while their men were facing danger many hundreds of miles away.
Soon the Alamo is surrounded by Santa Anna's men. The Mexican army band plays a constant hymn of hate, trying to sap the spirits of the men inside the Alamo. The tension is conveyed in an instrumental reprise of CRY FOR INDEPENDENCE, this time simply called
CONFRONTATION. As the tension builds up, Crockett calls for a show of defiance by holding a fiesta and enjoying themselves before the fighting begins. This defiance is expressed in a jaunty, rousing song in the fiesta spirit, appropriately entitled
FIESTA TIME. This is followed by the
There has inevitably been some fraternising between the fighting men and the people of San Antonio, and a romance has blossomed between a Kentucky lawyer, Daniel Cloud, and Consuela, a San Antonio girl of Mexican descent. Daniel had come to Texas to escape the heartbreak of betrayal by a girl he had loved back home.. The romance between him and Consuela has blossomed in spite of his vow never to love again. But now Daniel faces a new kind of heartache in the song
PERHAPS ONE DAY as he says goodbye to Consuela, who has heeded his pleas to leave San Antonio for safety.
On the eve of battle, Jim Bowie collapses. He has been fighting off illness for a while, but he - like everybody else - realizes that he is about to die, whether or not he is able to survive the battle with Santa Anna. But Bowie is not afraid of death. In the song
BOWIE’S LAMENT, he welcomes death as a release from the loneliness he has suffered since his wife and child were killed by the plague. William Travis is left in charge of the men at the Alamo. Trying to buy time, Crockett urges him to set up negotiations with Santa Anna. There is little hope of an honorable settlement of the dispute with Santa Anna, but an envoy is sent to discuss it with Santa Anna. Santa Anna, as expected, is immovable - though he is willing to spare the men inside the Alamo if they are willing to surrender unconditionally and to promise to leave Texas forever. In the song
SURRENDER OR DIE Santa Anna lays down his terms.
Any final hope of help from outside is dashed when Captain Bonham bravely returns from a visit to Fannin at Goliad to tell Travis and Crockett that Fannin has decided to fortify Goliad and fight Santa Anna there. Hearing this news, Captain Almeron Dickinson - one of the few men to have his family with him at The Alamo - urges his wife Susannah to flee to safety (I CANNOT LEAVE YOU) Colonel Travis gives the men a choice - to stay and fight and die as free men, and help those who come after them, or to take their chances on escape. He offers the same choice to his black slave Joe. When Joe elects to remain, Travis makes him a fully fledged member of the regiment. Then he takes his sword and draws
A LINE IN THE SAND. Only one of the men at the Alamo chose to try to escape. In the battle that followed, all were killed. The show ends with a song,
REMEMBER THE ALAMO that tries to capture the real meaning of what happened that day.
Notes by Bernard J. Taylor