Amy Wallis brings Charm of Anne of Green Gables to Toronto

Amy Wallis brings charm of Anne of Green Gables to Toronto

“Mom and dad didn’t want me to go into theatre at all,” laughs Amy Wallis. But the young actor, who has already played several lead roles, is hooked. (April 28, 2009)
Director knew she had found the right one after Wallis auditioned for musical

May 02, 2009

When you’ve spent the last four years of your relatively short life alternating between playing one of Disney’s most beloved heroines and one of Canada’s most revered literary figures, you might think it could turn a young lady’s head.

But, judging from a recent conversation, Amy Wallis is doing just fine in the modesty department with none of the arrogance that both her onstage prototypes – Anne Shirley and Belle – have sometimes displayed.

Wallis, 26, is currently in Toronto rehearsing with the Charlottetown Festival Company to begin her fourth season as the title character in that best known of all Canadian musicals, Anne of Green Gables. What makes this time around even more special for her is that the show is going to begin on May 7 with a run at the Elgin Theatre, courtesy of Dancap Productions.

“I’m incredibly excited to be appearing in the city that I hope to build a career in,” says Wallis. “I really want to do well here.”

The chances are that she will. The reviews from her first three summers as Anne have all been glowing – the same kind of response in her native Vancouver, where she’s starred for the past four Christmases in the Arts Club Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

This might be the time for a bit of total disclosure. I directed Wallis’s mother, Valerie Easton (who is now a noted choreographer) and my wife, Pamela, appeared on stage with her father, Ray Wallis (who has left the business for a career in financial planning), when we were all young and foolish in Vancouver, back in the 1970s. But the Ouzounians had moved East by the time Amy was born on Sept. 16, 1982.

“Mom and dad didn’t want me to go into theatre at all,” she laughs. “They tried to get me interested in sports, but all I wanted to do was perform. I would force my parents to watch me put on these long, involved plays I had created when I was only four. I was always running around doing numbers from Cats and driving them crazy.”

By this point, Wallis’s father had quit show business “cold turkey,” in his daughter’s words, and was enjoying working in the financial sector. “Dad would try to get me interested in the things he was doing,” Wallis confesses, “and I would just stare at him with drool coming down from my mouth. I was such a Broadway baby!”

But the Wallis family still held the line, making sure Amy would have something approaching a normal existence. “I got very involved in high school drama,” shares Wallis, “and so I asked my mother if I could have an agent. She said `no.’ It was okay if went to dance classes and acted in community theatre, but she wanted me to have a real life.”

Eventually she spent a few years at York University, but dropped out, feeling that “I was ready and I knew what I wanted.”

After a year on a cruise ship (“just so I could see the world”), she wound up in her old hometown and got her first professional job as Anybodys in the Arts Club Theatre production of West Side Story.

Since then, she’s kept busy across the country in various shows, but there’s no doubt in her mind that the cherry on the sundae has been playing Anne Shirley.

“I flew out to Toronto to audition for it,” she remembers, “and I had no idea how I did at first. I wanted the part so badly! I had read the books as a little girl and the first song I ever sang at a concert was `Gee, I’m Glad I’m No One Else But Me.’ I had the VHS copy of the Megan Follows TV version and I’d watched it so much over the years that the tape had literally worn out. That’s how much I loved Anne of Green Gables.”

So her heart started beating just a bit faster when director Anne Allen stopped her after her audition and asked if she was planning to stay in Toronto a few more days.

“I told her `no,'” says Wallis, “that I was flying right back home. She just looked at me and said `Oh, I’d stay around.'”

Wallis was called back several times, and when she got to her final audition she remembers thinking she had blown it because she saw Allen turn to whisper to someone during her song.

“`Oh great, I thought, `She’s talking while I’m singing!'”

What she only found out later was that the person Allen was whispering to was author Don Harron, and what she was saying was “I think we’ve finally found our Anne.”

Things are busy for Wallis right now, but what about life after Anne?

“I see myself playing as many different roles as possible. I really want to do My Fair Lady. And I’ve always hoped to be in a production of Les Miserables. I’d be anyone … even the third whore from the left!”

I wonder what Marilla would have to say about that!


Q: What was the first musical you ever saw?

Marilyn Dalzell, Peterborough

A: It was a Vancouver production of Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby and Long John Baldry. Cathy Rigby threw fairy dust on me so I went home and tried to fly. I couldn’t. I didn’t get hurt, but I was very sad.

Q: How old were you when you first came across Anne of Green Gables?

Jean-Anne Moors, Whitby

A: I think I was 9 when I first started reading one of the books. Then I learned the songs from the musical and next came the TV show on tape.

Q: Why do you think Anne of Green Gables is still so popular in Charlottetown after all these years?

Eleanor Vineberg, Halifax, N.S.

A: First of all, it’s a wonderful show, but I also think people love coming to see Anne’s story near her home.


Fourteen actresses have played Anne Shirley in the Charlottetown Festival production of Anne of Green Gables since it premiered in 1965. Here’s a few:

Susan Cuthbert (1979-1980): She went on to become the first alternate for Rebecca Caine’s Christine Daae in the original Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera, playing the role at least twice a week.

Glynis Ranney (1991-1992): Known for her soulful, wide-eyed stare and crystal-clear voice, Ranney has been seen for many years at the Shaw Festival.

Tracy Michailidis (1994-1996): One of the most serious and emotional of all Annes, Michailidis has gone on to star at Shaw and Stratford as well as theatres around North America.

Chilina Kennedy (2000-2001): The feisty, sexy Kennedy went far beyond Anne Shirley, starring as Sophie in the national tour of Mamma Mia! and is currently at Stratford, in West Side Story.


Exclusive Coverage of Anne of Green Gables Open Call

by Kelly Cameron by way of

On Tuesday April 21st, 2009 Dancap Productions held open auditions for children aged 8-12 to be in the Toronto engagement of Canada’s longest running musical Anne of Green Gables.  More than sixty children showed up at the open call, all eager for a chance to participate in this amazing piece of Canadian theatre.  BWW was on hand to witness the entire audition process, and had the opportunity to interview some of the key people behind the production.

In attendance for the process were members from Dancap Productions, as well as Artistic Director Anne Allan and Musical Director Donald Fraser.  Dance Captains and cast members Robin Calvert and Zak Kearns were also in attendance to assist in the casting process.

The studio at the Ossington Theatre was beautifully out-fitted with props from the production, and the kids started to pile in very quickly and filled the room.  Tons of bright and smiling faces prepared to learn a song and dance from the musical and show off what they had to offer.

It was a very thorough audition process.  The children learned a verse from the song “Ice Cream” and then were taught the dance that goes along with it.  Dance Captains Robin Calvert and Zak Kearns were fantastic in their direction of the young children, helping them learn the steps quickly so that they could be evaluated.  The process moved very smoothly, with the children being divided into groups according to sex and height and then performing for Anne Allan with accompaniment by Donald Fraser.

Once all the children had an opportunity to sing and dance, they had a sit-down with Ms. Allan where she demonstrated her unique ability to handle children.  Ms. Allan had a wonderful group conversation with them where she explained various aspects of the theatre business as well as the auditioning process, and encouraged the children to continue on their path regardless of whether or not they got a role in their production.  Ms. Allan was incredibly kind and approachable throughout the process, and it seemed as though all the children felt included regardless of whether or not they were called back.  She explained that they would all have the opportunity to go back to their parents, and then certain children would be called back in to perform the final call-backs.

During this time, I was able to speak with Ms. Allan for an exclusive interview for BWW readers:

Do you feel that this is a good turn-out?

Yes definitely.  The turn-out was fantastic.

How long have you been with the Charlottetown Festival Production of Anne of Green Gables – The Musical?

I’ve been with Anne for ten years.

Are you only casting the children at this time?

We are only casting the children in Toronto, although we did cast for some of the other roles prior to arriving here. We have a lot of returning cast members, but we did also need to cast some new people. It’s a great job for young dancers who are coming out of school because we need young kids or people who can look like young kids.  So very often it’s a wonderful jumping off point for performers.  Plus they get to be a part of a Canadian classic and that is a great opportunity as well.  Many of them stay with us for a long time, but then sometimes they go off and do other jobs and we need to open up the casting process again.

Will the children chosen be only performing in Toronto?

Yes, they will just be in the Toronto engagement. A lot of the reason behind that is because of their age and also their height.  Sometimes children can become too tall during a long run!

Once we are done, you will be bringing a select number of children back in for final call-backs.  What is involved from here on out?

Now we have to streamline everything and pick exactly what we need.  And even though we publish the breakdowns for height and age, many children like to come anyways so some can’t be considered because they don’t meet the basic criteria. Sometimes they might be too tall, because they have to look like a young child of Avonlea.  So basically I can tell right away which ones might be too small and need to be a bit older, or which ones are already too tall.  So height-wise I know right away which ones fit the bill, and from there it’s just a question of getting to look them over again in smaller numbers and choose exactly what we are looking for.

Approximately twenty children were brought back in for the final part of the audition process, and at this time, each had the opportunity to sing solo for Anne Allan and the rest of the casting crew.  In addition, they learned a more complicated dance routine and did some additional work with Dance Captain Zak Kearns.  At the end, Anne Allan sat down with the children and had a very informative and moving discussion about the demands that come with being in this type of production as well as general rules of the theatre.  The children were extremely enthusiastic despite being tired from a long evening of auditioning, and each were eager to answer questions and display their knowledge of the do’s and don’ts of being in a professional production.

At the end of the night all the children went home and the casting crew were left with a very hard decision to make.  All the children did a spectacular job and only four were being cast (two boys and two girls).  It was not announced at the open call who had been selected, however BWW has been given an exclusive opportunity to follow-up with the children shortly after the show opens to hear how they felt about the audition process and how they are enjoying being in Anne of Green Gables – The Musical.

Anne of Green Gables – The Musical plays the Elgin Theatre from May 7th – 24th, 2009. Tickets start as low as $25 and can be purchased online or by calling 416-644-3665.  For more information please visit