1922. When Jack Treadwell arrives at The Empire, in the middle of a rehearsal, he is instantly mesmerised. But amid the glitz and glamour, he soon learns that the true magic of the theatre lies in its cast of characters – both on stage and behind the scenes.
There’s stunning starlet Stella Stanmore and Hollywood heartthrob Lancelot Drake; and Ruby Rowntree, who keeps the music playing, while Lady Lillian Lassiter, theatre owner and former showgirl, is determined to take on a bigger role. And then there’s cool, competent Grace Hawkins, without whom the show would never go on . . . could she be the leading lady Jack is looking for?
When long-held rivalries threaten The Empire’s future, tensions rise along with the curtain. There is treachery at the heart of the company and a shocking secret waiting in the wings. Can Jack discover the truth before it’s too late, and the theatre he loves goes dark?
Musical theatre legend Michael Ball brings his trademark warmth, wit and glamour to this, his debut novel. Enjoy the show!
Write what you know they say. And Michael Ball, a star of musical theatre for over 30 years has certainly done that. The Empire is a glitzy production with an enormous cast and an authentic story that gives a greater idea of just how much work goes into every production, both on stage and behind the scenes.
The main stars are Jack Treadwell, who when coming home after the war with no real career or focus in mind, finds himself in the Yorkshire town of Highbridge and more particularly, The Empire theatre where having fallen for the whole idea of working in a theatre, begs for a job and becomes their doorman. The Empire, jointly owned by Sir Edmund Lassiter, (the less said about him, the better) and his recently widowed step-grandmother, Lady Lassiter, is an imposing character all on its own and the descriptions of the old theatre with its showy front of house and less glamorous backstage areas are superb.
Grace Hawkins, the manager’s assistant also takes centre stage and really the show couldn’t go on without her. Jack may prove to be a Jack of all trades with his enthusiasm sometimes being more of a hinder than a help but his engaging manner, charm and people skills endear him to most people however it is quiet, and often stressed Grace who attempts to keep the show on the road. There is an obvious chemistry between them which is very nicely done and not overplayed.
This isn’t just about a theatre show, there is so much more to the story – it’s about people, families, greed and money and sometimes touches on the darker side of life and includes strands of jealousy and sabotage, gangsters and secrets – and this is all off stage. There is plenty of drama the entire way through, with even some of the supporting characters having their time under the spotlight.
At the beginning of the book is a cast list. It is rather large, listing every single person that appears in the story and I have to admit to feeling rather daunted at first. However this list is extremely useful to refer back to if needed (I was reading a Kindle version and it would be even easier in the print form) but once I got into the story, the characters and their personalities were so well defined that I had no issues at all. I had my favourites, Jack and Grace obviously, but also the older Agnes de Montfort; independent and feisty, she was certainly a force to be reckoned with!
This is Michael Ball’s debut novel and the first in the series. Assuming this is all his own work (which I shall unless told otherwise), he does write extremely well and I was very impressed. There is a warmth to the writing and his knowledge and passion for the theatre comes through clearly. I had a few wobbles initially, mainly whilst I got to grips with the many characters and how they fitted in but once in the groove I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be reading the next in the series. It’s a sumptuous story full of drama with some lighter touches of humour and romance. Definitely recommended.
Michael Ball OBE is a singer, actor, presenter and now author. He’s been a star of musical theatre for over three decades, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical twice, he’s also won two BRIT awards and been nominated for a Grammy. Michael regularly sells out both his solo tours and his Ball & Boe shows with Alfie Boe and has multiple platinum albums. The Empire is his first novel.
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