Liverpool Empire Theatre
The Liverpool Empire Theatre forms part of Liverpool’s Cultural Quarter,and is set to play an important role in 2008 when Liverpool will be European Capital of Culture.
In October 1866, The Prince of Wales Theatre and Opera House opened on Lime Street. It was lit by gas light and all the stage machinery was controlled by steam power. Famous names topping the bill during this era included Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, Marie Lloyd, Harry Lauder and Sarah Bernhardt.
In 1895, Moss Empires bought the theatre and had it refurbished by famous theatre architect Frank Matcham. Now known as the Empire Theatre, it reopened to produce variety shows and pantomimes. In the early 1900s the building was updated with the installation of electricity.
During the 1920s it was decided that the theatre wasn’t grand enough, so it was demolished and entirely rebuilt as a larger theatre – with the widest auditorium in Europe. Based on an American design, it was the most up-to-date theatre in the provinces, and the largest two-tier theatre in the country. The new Empire Theatre showed Revues and welcomed stars such as Ivor Novello and Dame Sybil Thorndike into the 1930s.
The theatre stayed open through the war years, despite air raids, and the locals were entertained by favourites such as Arthur Askey and Tommy Trinder – whose brother was the stage manager. 1950s audiences were delighted by stars such as Julie Andrews, Laurel and Hardy and Frankie Vaughn, while Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland were two of the Names from the ‘60s. In 1965 The Beatles performed to packed houses.
The theatre closed for five months in 1998 for phase one of a major refurbishment, including extending the stage by 20 feet to the rear so that it could easily accommodate every touring show in the country . In 2002, phase two of the redevelopment was completed, including the glass atrium and new box office. The total project cost some £11 million. The newly updated Empire can now regularly host top Shows such as Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Starlight Express and Disney musicals.