On a screen above the stage, we see the live projection of a young Black person with a puppet of a purple monster. On the stage, we see a table with projectors and other equipment. The actors and puppets are standing behind the table.
Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster, presented by Manual Cinema and Chicago Children's Theatre Credit: Courtesy Manual Cinema

The Chicago Children’s Theatre’s 18th season kicks off with Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster, an innovative production from the Emmy Award-winning multimedia performance collective, Manual Cinema

Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster
Through 10/16: Sat-Sun 9:30 and 11:30 AM, Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine, 312-374-8835, chicagochildrenstheatre.org, $25-$36

Based on two books by children’s author Mo Willems, Leonardo! follows a young monster who is woefully terrible at being a monster. Despite his best efforts, he’s simply too adorable to scare anyone. But when he finds the opportunity to scare Sam, the “most scaredy-cat kid in the world,” Leonardo learns an equally heartening and humorous lesson about finding his voice, the power of friendship, and using his strengths for good. The story was adapted for the stage by Manual Cinema codirectors Sarah Fornace (who also directs the show) and Drew Dir. (The third Manual Cinema codirector, Ben Kauffman, created the music, lyrics, and sound design with Kyle Vegter).

As the production company’s name suggests, the show’s four-person cast executes the story as a DIY film, projected onto a screen set above the stage. Each performer helps bring Leonardo’s story to life using a carefully thought-out fusion of lively puppetry, intricate paper cutouts, and amusing character work, complete with playful costumes and Kauffman and Vegter’s live music. While the story is well-suited for young children (the company recommends it for ages 2-11), audiences of all ages can appreciate Manuel Cinema’s immersive visuals and impressive technical setup that seamlessly blends the stage and screen.