11 o'clock numbers

I have been thinking about 11 o'clock numbers and brought up the subject as a focus for discussion at the Musical Writing Lab I go to.

What is an 11 o'clock number you may ask?

I have read a lot about what it means and here are some replies:

"The term is derived from the fact that during the golden age of broadway, shows had later starting times which meant that the 11 o'clock number would occur late in Act II, which would typically coincide with 11pm."

"A big song near the end of the show that stands out and energises the proceedings before the finale."

"A song in a musical that is placed near the end of the second act, before the plot's loose ends are tied up."

"It isn't a reprise."

"A song in which the main character has some kind of revelation or undergoes a major emotional moment that brings the musical to a climax."

Last April Birdland in New York had a cabaret evening that was called "11 o'clock numbers at 11 o'clock!" which seems a strange idea for a cabaret night because every number would supposedly be a show stopper.

here are some examples of 11 o'clock numbers:

Memory - Cats

Confrontation - Jekll & Hyde

No Good Deed, March of the Witch Hunters and For Good - Wicked

Marry the Man today - Guys and Dolls

Fifty Percent - Ballroom

Omigod You Guys - Legally Blonde

Reviewing the Situation - Oliver

How Could I Ever Know - The Secret garden

Not While I'm Around - Sweeney Todd

Step In Time - Mary Poppins

Anything You Can Do - Annie Get your Gun

What I Did For Love - Chorus Line

Rose's Turn - Gypsy

Two Lost Souls - Damn Yankees

Send in the Clowns

Being Alive - Company

Gimme Gimme - Thoroughly Modern Millie

From this I deduce that it is often a solo from the protagonist, but not always because many are duets and some are ensemble plus the protagonist.

I think the use for this song, structurally, must be to heighten the audience's excitement before the denouement.  Although some of the things I have read have said that this should be a song we come away singing at the end of the show - many of the above songs are not the best songs in the show or the ones we come away with, although some are.  There are rules but they can be broken.  But it looks as if there is a good reason for this type of number.  But did the composers sit down and say "let's write an 11 o'clock number" or did it just happen by chance?  Or was the idea of an 11 o'clock number so ingrained that they wrote it without thinking?

I have written the lyrics for a song, near the end of Capture, which could, I think, be an 11 o'clock number.  But when I wrote the lyrics I didn't realise that was what it might be.  In fact I wasn't quite sure what an 11 o'clock number was at that point.  So perhaps it does just happen!


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