Based in Europe when COVID hit, Australian musical theatre performers Amy Manford and Genevieve McCarthy returned home to Perth where they co-founded MM Creative Productions. At the end of October, they will produce and star in Disney in Concert: A Dream is a Wish, with Jessica Gethin conducting the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. They tell Limelight how their relationship with Disney came about, about the jobs they have lost due to COVID – including Opera Australia’s production of The Phantom of the Opera in which Manford was to play Christine Daaé, which has been postponed to 2022 – and their plans for the future.
What were you both doing when COVID hit?
Amy Manford: I was in Athens, Greece performing as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera. We were the major first production in the world to get cancelled due to the pandemic – it was a crazy time!
Genevieve McCarthy: I was lucky to have flown into Australia from London in February 2020, so I avoided the stress of international border closures and hotel quarantine. But I did get stuck living out of a suitcase and crashing on my sister’s couch in Sydney for the first lockdown.
How quickly did you decide to return home to Perth?
AM: As soon as the show got cancelled in Athens, I quickly went back to London to pack up my apartment and booked a direct flight to Perth with my boyfriend. It was a decision that most people thought was a little dramatic at the time, but about 48 hours later the flight prices soared to about $6000. We were the first lot of international travellers to be able to home quarantine, we were very lucky!
GM: The second Mark McGowan opened the state border to returning WA citizens in June 2020, I flew home. We decided pretty quickly afterwards that Perth was the place to be for the foreseeable future.
Did you lose a lot of work because of the pandemic?
AM: I have lost some incredible, life-changing jobs due to the pandemic. When you lose a dream job, you don’t just lose that one opportunity, but all the future opportunities that could have eventuated from that original job. Not to mention the time and effort you had already put into getting the role in the first place.
GM: The loss of work has been devastating and it continues to be to this day. The second you think the world is starting to return to normal and auditions open up or work gets pencilled in, it can all be lost again so quickly because of snap lockdowns. It’s been a tough 18 months.
I know Amy was to have played Christine for OA. How did you feel when Phantom was postponed?
AM: It was a hard one to process at the time, we all thought we would have been out of this mess by now! However, I am so thankful to Opera Australia for dealing with the situation so well and doing their best to reschedule. We will be back – even if we all have to wait another year!
I believe you are singing the national anthem at the AFL Grand Final on 25 September?
AM: I am thrilled to be performing at such an iconic Australian sporting event and a particularly exciting moment in history for WA. I will certainly take pride in singing our national anthem back on home soil, it will be a surreal moment in what has been an unpredictable year for myself and many others.
When did you first meet? And how did your friendship develop?
We have actually known each other since we were very young, but we took different paths as we grew up. We reconnected when we found ourselves studying and working in London at the same time. The musical theatre industry can be pretty brutal at times, so it’s great to have a close friend who understands what you’re going through and can ride the highs and lows with you. It’s even better when you have completely different casting types, so are never up for the same roles!
When did you form MM Creative Productions, and was it something you had been thinking about for a while?
We had some preliminary chats in London about what shows we imagined doing well in Australia. We are both very ambitious and hard-working people with a lot of different skill sets between us, so we knew we would work well together. Starting our own production company was always the big picture goal, but was something we always envisaged would come along later down the track. COVID definitely fast-tracked our plans when we both found ourselves back in Perth with all our work cancelled. We decided to take a big risk and begin our production plans early and haven’t regretted that decision to just give it a go.
You presented The Magic Music of Animation in Perth. Can you tell us a bit about that production?
The Magical Music of Animation was a concert we produced at the Perth Concert Hall in December 2020 that celebrated the incredible music from animated films both classic and contemporary. The concert featured all our favourite movie score hits from Frozen, The Little Mermaid, Anastasia, Trolls. We had a great cast of singers and musicians, both emerging and professional, from the West Coast Philharmonic – all with the tremendously talented Jessica Gethin at the helm.
Was that how your relationship with Disney began?
Exactly! We used some of our industry contacts to get in touch with Disney over in the States back in December 2020 to see if we could hire a selection of orchestral scores for the show. They were so wonderful to work with and get the scores to us in our speedy five-week time frame. After the success of The Magical Music of Animation, we started a dialogue with them about bringing one of their Disney in Concert shows to Perth and just four months later signed our rights deal.
Had you seen Disney in Concert: A Dream is a Wish overseas?
We haven’t. But after working with Disney’s scores back in December and hearing how lush they were, it was a no-brainer. Disney really is synonymous with excellence when it comes to their music and orchestrations, so we didn’t have any reservations. We can’t wait for Perth audiences to experience the magic of hearing their favourite Disney tunes performed live by a 65-piece orchestra and some wonderful homegrown singers.
Were you able to choose the songs you wanted to perform?
Disney in Concert: A Dream is a Wish is a fixed program that has been carefully curated and arranged by some of the most talented people in the industry. We are lucky enough to have a wonderful working relationship with the creator of A Dream is a Wish and have been allowed to make some small changes to the program (cough, cough Moana!) to suit our local audience, but it really was a breathtaking program to begin with.
How many other performers will perform with you? Can you say who they are yet?
We have been working very closely with Disney to handpick the best cast for this particular show. We are thrilled to be performing alongside the brilliant Ethan Jones, who recently appeared as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz at Perth’s Crown Theatre and has been cast in the upcoming Australian tour of the musical 9 to 5. He has such a brilliant stage presence and so much energy – we can’t wait to see him perform A Friend like Me from Aladdin. We have one more incredible cast member who has performed leading roles in the West End, Broadway and here in Australia who we will be announcing very soon. He is a huge talent and we can’t for Perth audiences to see him on stage this October.
Who oversees the original Disney footage for you?
We have a wonderful tech team who handle all the behind the scenes logistics for us. The footage itself has all been lovingly curated by Disney and sent to us in top secret files!
Did you have to work hard to convince WASO to be involved?
We have a brilliant working relationship with WASO after performing as soloists with them for many years. They know that we always produce a polished and accomplished product as performers, so they were very excited to be involved in our first large scale concert.
Have you been able to chat with Jessica Gethin about the show?
Jessica has been heavily involved from the very beginning of our Disney journey. She conducted a Disney in Concert program in Singapore a couple of years ago, so she knows the score. She is a huge asset to the show and we are incredibly fortunate to have her support.
When did you both begin singing?
AM: I have been singing for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t actually start taking it seriously until year 10 in school. In my younger years, I was an elite sportswoman in rhythmic gymnastics and pole vaulting. I quit all elite sports when I was about 15 to focus on school and singing.
GM: I started singing professionally at the age of nine when I was cast as Little Cosette in the 10th anniversary Australian tour of Les Misérables. I caught the acting bug and followed this up with the Australian tour of The Sound of Music, Annie and a couple of seasons with WA Opera. When I was 15, I missed a big chunk of year 11 to film children’s TV series Parallax, which was a lot of fun. I was always equally as passionate about academics as I was drama in school, so decided to pursue a career in law once I graduated from high school and only returned to performing in my late twenties when I moved to London.
Where did you train?
AM: I studied a Bachelor or Music at WAAPA before moving to London to study my Masters of Performance at The Royal College of Music.
GM: I received my Masters of Performance in Music Theatre from the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Favourite roles to date?
AM: Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera and Gretel in Hansel and Gretel.
GM: Aphrodite in the world premiere of new musical Mythic and [the voice of] Aubrey in Thomas the Tank Engine.
Are you missing London? Perth must feel very small by comparison.
We both loved every second of living in London and it is so nice to see the arts industry opening up again over there – they’ve had a tough ride! What we miss most is having such incredible theatre on our doorstep – the magic of London for us was being able to see a world class play at the National Theatre one night, then the workshop of a brand new musical at the Southwark Playhouse another, then seeing a music theatre classic in the West End the next. The options were endless, and as theatre lovers you can’t beat that! The Perth theatre community is undoubtedly smaller, but we have seen some incredible work since we returned home.
What future plans do you have for MM Creative Productions?
Our goal is to produce our first semi-staged musical in the next year or so. Until then, we have a lot of concert ideas brewing away.
Disney in Concert: A Dream is a Wish will be performed at The Riverside Theatre, Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre on 29 & 30 October.