Al Jolson first proclaimed in 1935, “…the world is going to be mine! Mine all mine! This evening about a quarter till nine.” In the early years of American musical theatre, Broadway shows would dim their lights and evening performances would start at 8:45 PM. Although uncommon today, many two-act musicals in the early 20th century would not have their final curtain call until 11:15 or 11:30 PM because performances started much later then they do today.
Around 11:00 PM, before musicals had their final bows, audiences were greeted with a show-stopping number right before the show’s finale. Officially labeled as the “11 O’Clock Number,” this late night performance has been categorized as occurring during a pivotal moment in a show’s storyline. Some of the most iconic 11 O’Clock Numbers in musical theatre history are songs such as “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys & Dolls, “Spanish Rose” from Bye Bye Birdie, and “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy.
Although times have changed, 11 O’Clock Numbers still grace the stage. From the emotional “Memory” in CATS to the intense and powerful title song in Kander & Ebb’s CABARET, theatre audiences today rave and applaud numbers that leave them feeling rejuvenated and transformed…whether or not they appear on stage at 11 o’clock.