Huntley man playing Tin man in ‘Wizard of Oz’ in Aurora

(from left) Elizabeth Stenholt plays Dorothy and Huntley's Carl Draper is Tin man in Paramount Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz.
(from left) Elizabeth Stenholt plays Dorothy and Huntley's Carl Draper is Tin man in Paramount Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz.

Huntley native Carl Draper hopes to show how beautiful life is through the eyes of the Tin Man.

Now living in New York, Draper has returned to Paramount Theatre in Aurora to play the beloved character in the musical theater production of “The Wizard of Oz,” which opened Nov. 14 and is running through Jan. 6 at the theater. This is his fifth time performing at Paramount.

Both the character and the theater drew him back. 

“I think everyone can relate to having a moment in their life when they feel like they can’t love or something is preventing them from loving,” Draper said. “It’s exciting for me to tell that story to a group of people. When you think you don’t have a heart is probably when you have the most heart. ... There’s so much beautiful storytelling inside of that.”

Under the direction of Amber Mak, the production contains all sorts of “morsels” of depth for the audience, he said. 

“There are little twists in this version of it that will be like, ‘That’s a new way of thinking about it,’” he said. “You’ll still get all the things you love about ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but you’ll have these extra insights that will give you a deeper look and deeper insight.”

In Paramount’s “The Wizard of Oz,” the set comes alive, he said, and includes a stunning use of puppetry. 

“I can’t even explain it,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful scenery, the trees and flying monkeys. They look so incredible, and it’s so amazing the way they move. … Every element of the show is so incredible.”

Homeschooled in high school, earning his diploma in 2006, Draper grew up in Huntley, where his parents, Justina and Edward Draper, still live.

He fell in love with theater at age 10, dancing in a corner as a bear in a production of “NARNIA: The Musical” for Christian Youth Theater. 

Through theater, he saw people express themselves and connect in a way he’d never been able to do before, and he set out to learn how to do that himself, he said. He had played sports and took part in other activities, but soon realized theater was what he was looking for. 

Draper performed in numerous youth theater productions before heading out to earn a musical theater degree from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati in 2010. 

He’s toured nationally with “Spamalot” and has appeared in numerous productions throughout New York and the country, including productions of “Oklahoma!” – playing Curly – “Mary Poppins,” “A Chorus Line” and “My Fair Lady” at Paramount. 

He also travels the world performing on cruise ships for Crystal Cruises.

“I’ve been really lucky,” he said. “There are so many brilliant people that don’t get to work. I’ve just been in the right place at the right time. The Chicago theater community has been so kind to me and always has me working. It keeps me coming back. I’m always so excited to come and work in Chicago because there’s great energy here. Everyone is so creative.”

The emphasis in Chicago-area theater is to be creative and artistic while creating commercial theater, he said.

“I love being a part of that, especially at Paramount,” he said. “ ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is about coming home, and I get to come home during the holidays, which is really special.”

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