Join us for the next Festival: January 15-26, 2025

Leonardo! A Wonderful Show about a Terrible Monster


Leonardo is a terrible monster. He tries so hard to be scary, but he just… isn’t. Then Leonardo finds Sam, the most scaredy-cat kid in the world. Will Leonardo finally get to scare the tuna salad out of someone? Or will it be the start of an unlikely friendship? The plot thickens when this pair meets Kerry and Frankenthaler, an even scaredier-cat and her monster friend. Kerry and Sam need to make a big decision: will they just be scaredy cats or can they become friends?


Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster is inspired by two books by author Mo Willems: Leonardo, the Terrible Monster and Sam, the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World. The production was created by Manual Cinema, a Chicago-based performance collective specializing in cinematic shadow puppetry and original music. Leonardo! was originally commissioned by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through the Education Artist-in-Residency of Mo Willems. 

Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster uses hundreds of illustrated paper puppets, book pages, two-dimensional props, furry monster puppets and original songs to bring Mo’s books to life. Manual Cinema wanted to recreate the experience of holding one of Mo’s book pages, which are big, bold, colorful, and full of visual rhythm, with a playful use of scale. Like all Manual Cinema productions, you’re invited to watch the big screen like a traditional movie, or to watch the artists below as they create the story in real time. (There is no wrong way to watch the show!)


Created by Manual Cinema

Inspired by the Books Leonardo, The Terrible Monster and Sam, The Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World by Mo Willems

Sarah Fornace Director

Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter Music, Lyrics & Sound Design

Drew Dir 2D Puppet Design

Lizi Breit Hand & Rod Puppet Design

Mieka Van der Ploeg Costume & Wig Design

Trey Brazeal with Nick Chamernik Lighting Design

Megan Alrutz Dramaturg

Maydi Díaz Stage Manager, Board Operator


Leah Casey (Kerry, Puppeteer)

Lily Emerson (Narrator, Character Voices, Vocals)

Julia Miller (Sam, Puppeteer)

Lindsey Noel Whiting (Leonardo, Voice and Puppeteer)

Commissioned by The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts with additional commissioning support from Utah Presents

Special Thanks to David Kilpatrick, Chicago Childrens Theater and Laura Colby


LEAH CASEY (Kerry, Puppeteer) is a Chicago-based actress, dancer, and writer. When not on stage, she can be found lending her voice to all manner of audiobooks, or with the cast of Project STELLAR, a science fiction podcast about a group of crazy kids who have close encounters of the awesome kind. Chicago credits: Murder on the Orient Express, Grease, Cinderella (Drury Lane), A Christmas Carol (Writers Theatre/Manual Cinema), Leonardo and Sam (Chicago Children’s Theatre/Manual Cinema), Frankenstein (Court Theatre/Manual Cinema), For Colored Girls… (Court Theatre), Romeo and Juliet (Teatro Vista), STORM (Walkabout/Moonfool). Leah is represented by the dedicated team at Shirley Hamilton.

MAYDI DÍAZ (Tour Manager, Video Mixing & Live Sound Effects) is a Chicago based stage manager. Since completing a BA in Arts Management from Columbia College Chicago and a MA in Theatre Production from the National University of Ireland Galway, Maydi has worked on multiple areas of technical theater. Her stage management credits include Caucasian Chalk Circle (Mick Lally Theatre), Back In The Day (UrbanTheater Company), The Delicate Tears of the Waning Moon and La Peor de Todas (Water People Theater), Kiev (Aguijón Theater Co), and various shows with PlayMaker’s Laboratory. When she’s not at the theater, you can find Maydi folk dancing or doing calligraphy.

LILY EMERSON (Narrator, Musician) is a multi­faceted performer, producer, collaborator, and all-around creative weirdo. Lily is the co-creator of Adventure Sandwich, a Chicago-based group that produces family-friendly video, music, live performances and events. She served as the Artistic Director of Opera-Matic, an interdisciplinary arts organization that produces participatory art experiences in the parks, from 2018-2020. She is also the founder of Lucid Street Theatre, a performance collective that created original works from 2007-2011. Lily has performed throughout the US, Belarus, the Czech Republic, and France, and has been recognized with various awards and residencies, including the Lisa Dershin LinkUP Residency, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Artist in Residence, and the Chicago Digital Media Production Fund. More information about Lily can be found at

JULIA MILLER (Co-Artistic Director, Sam) is a director, puppeteer, and puppet designer. With Manual Cinema she has directed Mementos Mori and The End of TV as well as created original roles in Frankenstein (The Creature/Elizabeth), Ada/Ava (Ada), Lula del Ray (Lula’s Mother), The Magic City (Helen), and Hansel und Gretel (Hansel). In Chicago, she has worked as a performer and puppeteer with Redmoon Theatre and Blair Thomas and Co. She spent several years training in devised theatre, clown and mask with Double Edge Theatre, Carlos García Estevez and at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy. 

LINDSEY NOEL WHITING is a Chicago-based performer and teaching artist. Her theatrical credits include Lookingglass Alice, Mr. & Mrs. Pennyworth, and The Great Fire at Lookingglass Theatre, Christmas Carol and Dracula at Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Snow Queen at Victory Gardens, and The Year I Didn’t Go to School with Chicago Children’s Theatre. She has also appeared in numerous shows with Redmoon Theatre, including the world premier of The Cabinet and Once Upon a Time. Additionally, Lindsey is an Associate Artist with The Actor’s Gymnasiums where she has performed in over ten original circus productions. 

Mo Willems is an author, illustrator, animator, playwright, and the inaugural Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence, where he collaborates in creating fun new stuff involving classical music, opera, comedy concerts, dance, painting, and digital works with the National Symphony Orchestra, Ben Folds, Yo-Yo Ma, and others.

Willems is best known for his #1 New York Times bestselling picture books, which have been awarded three Caldecott Honors (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny, Knuffle Bunny Too), two Theodor Geisel Medals, and five Geisel Honors (The Elephant & Piggie series).

Mo’s art has been exhibited around the world, including major solo retrospectives at the High Museum (Atlanta) and the New-York Historical Society (NYC). Over the last decade, Willems has become the most produced playwright of Theater for Young Audiences in America, having written or co-written four musicals based on his books.

He began his career as a writer and animator on PBS’ Sesame Street, where he garnered six Emmy Awards (writing). Other television work includes two series on Cartoon Network: Sheep in the Big City (creator + head writer) and Codename: Kids Next Door (head writer). Mo is creating new TV projects for HBOMax, where his live action comedy special Don’t Let the Pigeon Do Storytime! currently streams.

His papers reside at Yale University’s Beinecke Library.