Becoming Dorothy: Paramount’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ star embraces challenge of iconic role

By Cathy Janek For Chronicle Media

Elizabeth Stenholt plays Dorothy and Nessa plays Toto in The Wizard of Oz, November 14, 2018 -January 6, 2019 at Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. Tickets: or (630) 896-6666. Photo location: Valley View Farm, Oswego. Photo credit: Thomas J. King

While growing up Elizabeth Stenholt loved to dress up as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” whenever Halloween came around.

“About five Halloweens in a row,” she admitted.

With a homemade costume and her dog, Buddy, playing the part of Toto, she made the trick-or-treating rounds.

On Nov. 14, Stenholt assumes the role of Dorothy once again, this time on the stage of Aurora’s historic Paramount Theatre in a theatrical production of  “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It is such a large scale production,” she said. “The Paramount Theatre has the feel of a Broadway production.”

This isn’t Stenholt’s first foray into the Land of Oz.

When she was about 10 years old, she played a munchkin and a flying monkey in a community production. At the time, Stenholt said she remembers looking up to the actress cast as Dorothy and was “awestruck” and “a bit jealous.”

Now that she has the role, Stenholt said she is in a “constant state of excitement and so honored at getting the opportunity to do it.”

She grew up watching the movie version of The Wizard of Oz “almost every single day,” Stenholt said, “In a weird kind of way, Judy Garland taught me how to sing.”

Stenholt says she wants to give the role the “justice and respect the talent and amazement that is Judy Garland.”

A 13-year veteran of Chicago theatre, Stenholt also has appeared in the productions of «Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure at Chicago Shakespeare”; “Arcadia,” “Trevor the Musical,” “Romeo and Juliet» at Writers Theatre; “Airline Highway”, “Love Kills” at Steppenwolf Theatre; “Spring Awakening” at Marriott Theatre; “Dr. Seward’s Dracul” at First Folio; “Peter Pan” at Music Theater Works; and “One Flea Spare” at the Eclipse Theatre Company.

She has also has been awarded Best Actress for her film work in “Empty Space” at the Twister Alley Film Fest and Best Supporting Actress for “Broiled” at the Blue Whiskey Film Fest.

Other lead roles in the Paramount’s «The Wizard of Oz» include Kyle Adams as Scarecrow/Hunk, Carl Draper as Tinman/Hickory, Paul-Jordan Jansen as Cowardly Lion/Zeke, Caron Buinis as the Wicked Witch of the West/Almira Gulch, Harriet Nzinga Plumpp as Glinda the Good Witch/Aunt Em and Gene Weygandt as Wizard of Oz/Professor Marvel.

Amber Mak, director of the upcoming production, is now a Chicago resident but was born in Kansas, where “The Wizard of Oz” is set.

That significance has not been lost on Mak as she creates her version of Kansas through “theatre magic.”

The production also is meaningful to Mak because “it is very imaginative,” but also because it is a “story about friendship and the power of friendship and the need to journey down a road and find courage, bravery, and a heart,” she said. “That is a message we all need in the world.”

This is Mak’s third holiday season at the Paramount Theatre. She also directed and choreographed the recent Paramount productions of “The Little Mermaid» and “Elf.”

Mak began her career as an actress, but began stepping into the director’s role as her career progressed.

“I loved performing,” she said. “But sitting through other shows I would start to analyze it and think creatively about what could be done with it and imagining new worlds for audiences.”

Shows like “The Wizard of Oz” are also meaningful for Mak to direct because it is an opportunity to “unite an entire family.”

“I love being a part of the memory that people are creating together,” she said.

The Wizard of Oz

Nov. 14-Jan. 6, 2019.

Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

Show times: Wednesdays 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

No show Thursday, Nov. 22 (Thanksgiving Day) or Sunday, Dec. 23, at 5:30 p.m. There is one added Tuesday evening performance on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m. Additional family matinees are scheduled for Friday, Dec. 21, at 1:30 p.m.; Thursday, Dec. 27, at 1:30 p.m.; and Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 at 1 p.m. Evening show times Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 2-3  at 6 p.m., one hour early. Matinee show times Wednesday and Thursday, Jan.  2 and 3 are at 1 p.m., 30 minutes early.

Single tickets to The Wizard of Oz are $36 to $69. Tickets are available at, by calling 630-896-6666, or at the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Wizard of Oz has some scary moments and is suggested for ages 5 and older.