Thursday, March 01, 2007

The great 11 o'clock number

In musical theater, an 11 o'clock number is a big song near the end of the show that stands out and energizes the proceedings before the finale. The play as a whole may be middling and uninspired, but then, before the curtain comes down, in its last few moments, the musical unveils a song that--bam!--blows the audience right out of their seats with its power and beauty. You leave the theater forgetting everything else but that one last-gasp musical moment: the great 11 o'clock number.

"Ballroom," a Broadway flop in 1979, is a forgettable musical except for three things: 1) It was choreographed by the legendary Michael Bennett (of "A Chorus Line" and "Dreamgirls" fame); 2) its odd music attempted a fusion of ballroom waltzes, disco rhythms and lounge ditties; and 3) it featured an unforgettable 11 o'clock number sang by Dorothy Loudon (who played Miss Hannigan in the original Broadway run of "Annie" two years earlier).

That song, "Fifty Percent," qualifies as the ultimate querida manifesto, the Aria of The Other Woman. Ms. Loudon played a sad widow resigned to life as a married man's mistress, and in this number with its poignant lyrics (by Alan and Marilyn Bergman), she would bare a proud, defiant spirit determined to love despite the odds.

Twenty years after "Ballroom," in 1999, Ms. Loudon took part in "My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies," a concert at Carnegie Hall graced by some of Broadway's most accomplished female performers: Audra McDonald, Marin Mazzie, Bebe Neuwirth, Liza Minnelli, Elaine Stritch, Nell Carter, among others, with Julie Andrews as gracious host. Ms. Loudon, now rather frail and in fading voice, had only one number--"Fifty Percent"--but her performance amounted to a towering summation of her magnificent talent as a musical theater artist. The hard-won triumph in that voice, the weight of every weathered note, the truth in every phrase and pause--they made for a complete, shattering understanding of the character she was breathing life to in song.

Here is one of Broadway's most beloved 11 o'clock numbers. Enjoy! (Be patient with the first few lonely bars; once you get to the part that corresponds to the lyrics posted below, you'll be with the Carnegie Hall crowd in cheering for Ms. Loudon all the way.)

I don't iron his shirts
I don't sew on his buttons
I don't know all the jokes he tells
Or the songs he hums
Though I may hold him all through the night
He may not be here when the morning comes

I don't pick out his ties
Or expect his tomorrows
But I feel when he's in my arms
He's where he wants to be

We have no memories
Bittersweet with time
And I doubt if he'll spend New Year's Eve with me

I don't share his name
I don't wear his ring
There's no piece of paper saying that he's mine
But he says he loves me, and I believe it's true
Doesn't that make someone belong to you

So I don't share his name
So I don't wear his ring
So there's no piece of paper saying that he's mine
So we don't have the memories
I have enough memories
I've watched enough mornings
I've cried enough evenings
I've had enough birthdays to know what I want

Life is anyone's guess
It's a constant surprise
Though you don't plan to fall in love
When you fall, you fall

I'd rather have fifty percent of him
Or any percent of him
Than all of anybody else at all.

[video copyright © Image Entertainment]


beektur said...

Viva La Dot! I'm sure you have seen her performance of Losing my Mind/You Can Drive a Person Crazy in Sondheim's Celebration at Carnegie. If not...go find a copy now. Whattatalent! Whattacharacter! Whattaperformance! A magnificent whirlwind of crazy genius. And not to mention those Imeldific pouffy sleeves.

beektur said...

Aha...just found a youtube post of that perfomance. Here it is:


khalel said...

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Nostalgia Manila said...

Cool post, and great video. Thanks for posting this.

gibbs cadiz said...

yes, BEEKTUR, have that too! post ko rin yun, though super-love ko version ni michael ball ng 'losing my mind.' :)

ey, KHALEL, thanks. :)

thanks for the visit, NOSTALGIA MANILA. :)

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