Two sopranos capitalise on COVID with a business partnership that is bringing Disney stardust to Perth. Claire Coleman talks with Amy Manford and Genevieve McCarthy to find out more.
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It takes a certain type of performer to keep making plans during a global pandemic. In an arts industry taking hit after hit, it’s only the most ambitious and industrious that survive.
Sopranos Amy Manford and Genevieve McCarthy, the founders of MM Creative Productions, are two such artists. The company is the first all-female production house to get a coveted contract with the Disney In Concert series. Their second boutique production Disney In Concert: A Dream Is A Wish opens this month.
Pre-COVID, the sopranos had been living and working in dream jobs in London. WAAPA-trained Manford had been performing the coveted role of Christine in West End performances of Phantom of the Opera, and McCarthy was singing roles in new musicals such as Murder at the Gates, and voicing the character Aubrey in Thomas & Friends. When the pandemic drew the two friends home, they were quick to capitalise on the opportunities presented by Perth’s relative isolation.
“We were so lucky last year to be in Perth at the same time. When the theatres opened up we went, gosh, we just have to do something,” explains McCarthy. “We almost have to do something for the sake of all of our London friends who can’t do anything right now.”
That “something” wound up being 2020’s The Magical Music of Animation, a show featuring tunes from popular films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Frozen. The intention, as McCarthy describes it, was to present “a really simple show … just [to] bring some joy back into the world.”
The staging of the show was relatively simple compared to the theatrical extravaganzas Manford and McCarthy were accustomed to in London, but getting performing rights from the notoriously brand-protective Walt Disney Company was not so straightforward.
“We were literally the only town that could perform live and have an audience, and so I think that’s how we got their attention.” Manford explains. “COVID has been obviously so devastating to the arts, but in that scenario it was a semi-advantage.”
In an additional stroke of luck, Manford and McCarthy also had a Disney-approved conductor on hand. Jessica Gethin had previously conducted the show in Singapore, so was familiar to the company, and was eager to reprise her role for new audiences.
Building on the success of The Magical Music of Animation and using the connections they had carefully cultivated at Disney, Manford and McCarthy were in a position to be even more ambitious. In their latest offering, Disney In Concert: A Dream Is A Wish, Manford and McCarthy will sing Disney favourites, joined once more by Gethin, who will this time helm the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.
MM Creative Productions is the first all-female production house to get a coveted contract with the Disney In Concert series. McCarthy says MM Creative Productions has taken deliberate steps to “go in to bat for women in the arts”.
The partnership with Disney initially seems like an odd choice for two women keen to play leading roles on and off stage. Disney’s films are viewed by some as promoting fundamentally anti-feminist messages. Female characters, or “Disney princesses”, are sometimes accused of being too passive, and relying on male characters to define, support, or rescue them.
To Manford and McCarthy, though, these character assessments are too narrow and ignore historical context. Manford argues that characters from Cinderella through to Belle or Elsa all represent that period’s best takes on a modern woman. Part of the franchise’s appeal, in her view, is that its range of lead characters provides young viewers with different types of role models.
“I remember being totally obsessed with Mulan because she was such a go getter.” Manford says, reflecting on her own Disney origin story.
“There is a clear theme of Disney moving with the times.” McCarthy agrees. She notes, though, that Disney In Concert is not a retelling of the films’ narratives, and that she and Manford are not there to occupy the Disney princess role.
“We’re Genevieve and Amy when we stand up there: two modern women who have produced this show,” McCarthy explains. “What we hope that females in the audience take away from it is that here’s two young women who have had these careers where we’ve had to move away from home. We’ve ticked our goals. We’ve now started a production company in the middle of the pandemic. We’re working with some of the biggest production houses in the world, and we’re bringing you this music that you love.”
Pictured top: Amy Manford, Jessica Gethin and Genevieve McCarthy are bringing Disney in Concert to Perth. Photo supplied
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