As controversies swirl around the Alamo Plaza redevelopment, one thing stays the same: reverence for the story of the Republic of Texas defenders who gave their lives battling the Mexican army in 1836.
That reverence takes new form with the world premiere Saturday, Feb. 29, of Remember: A Musical Honoring Those Who Gave Their Lives for Texas. The one-day-only event features two performances, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and arrives in the midst of the annual Alamo Commemoration celebration from Feb. 23 to March 6.
Alamo Curator Ernesto Rodriguez said plays on the subject were common during the Davy Crockett craze of the 1950s, but that Remember might be the first musical to tell the story of the defenders. “It brings them back into the forefront for people to remember why they remember the Alamo,” he said.
The Alamo Trust, the nonprofit organization that manages the Alamo, and the Tobin Endowment are partnering to present Remember, written by Austin native W. Blake Winchell and San Francisco Bay-area composer Brett Strader. Proceeds from the first-time event will benefit the Remember the Alamo Foundation for its planned Alamo museum, a key element of the Alamo Plaza redesign. Together, the new museum, the Commemoration, and now Remember will honor the reason people across the world know of the Alamo, Rodriguez said.
“We’re always trying to bring history life for people,” Alamo Trust Content and Media Specialist Kevin Femmel said. “The stage is obviously a dramatic way to do it.”
Strader highlighted universal themes of the Alamo story, including “self-sacrifice, and giving up your life for something that you that you believe in,” as motivational elements for the music. Winchell, now living in California but from a seventh-generation Texan family, drew upon the correspondence of the defenders, who described their experiences during the 13-day siege and battle, before being overtaken by the forces of Mexican General Santa Anna.
Strader suggested that comparisons to the popular Broadway musical Hamilton are inevitable, since Remember also aims to retell a moment in history. But he said “I wasn’t burdened with the feeling that I needed to include specific musical elements from history. … I just wrote this show from a purely emotional and storytelling point of view.”
One similarity to Hamilton is that the lead role is played by a person of color, Bay Area singer Michael Dailey, who will play Stephen F. Austin while also narrating the overall story. Historical records indicate that the only person of African American descent present at the Alamo battle was a slave of William Barret Travis named Joe.
“We weren’t entirely unaware of the potential commentary on the visual, but truly we’re not trying to make any sort of statement,” Strader said of an African American playing Austin, who advocated for slavery as an economic need. “He’s just a fantastic actor and singer.”
Strader said Remember and Hamilton are “two very different plays. But Hamilton specifically is trying to make a really clear, multicultural statement, which is pretty cool, I think. But we didn’t really have that opportunity here. … We didn’t build the show with that in mind. We didn’t actively go out and seek people of color for all the roles. We just asked our friends who were nearby and cast them.”
Most of the other 10 roles will be played by California-based actors, accompanied by the 60-member San Antonio Symphony orchestra with a 75-member Symphony chorus. Lesser-known defender Carlos Espalier, said to be one of few defenders born on Texas land, is included with more the familiar figures of Crockett, Austin, Travis, Sam Houston, and Jim Bowie.
Songs such as the opener, Land of Hope, as well as Something To Die For and title song Remember give each character a voice, Strader said, and evoke the Texas mindset. Land of Hope is “all about the sweeping, gorgeous countryside of Texas. I just wrote what I felt in my heart evokes the feelings of these big wide-open spaces with rivers, and streams and lakes and all the things that Texans love about their land.”
Rodriguez said he hopes the musical will inspire people to look deeper into the story, which is as complex as any history.
“This place is one that pulls on everybody’s heartstrings, one way or another,” he said.
“That’s the main thing, getting the story out there is the important thing, because if we do our job right, it’ll pique the interest of the least one person to go read more.” he said.
Tickets are available for purchase on the Tobin Center website and range from $29.50 to $103.50.