Michael Unger Named New Skylight Music Theatre Artistic Director
New York Theatre and Opera Director Returns to His Midwest Roots
Milwaukee, Wis. (July 17, 2019) — Skylight Music Theatre today announced that Michael Unger will become the company’s new artistic director. Unger, a theatre and opera director based in New York City, has worked in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Yekaterinburg, Russia – and many places in between.
A Chicago native, Unger has been the Associate Artistic Director and Director of Education at Off-Broadway’s The York Theatre Company which, like Skylight, produces only music theatre. The York has a special emphasis on developing and producing new musical works, one of Unger’s many interests.
Unger is also the Producing Artistic Director of NewArts in Newtown, Conn., which he started with a local father in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. NewArts brings the children of Newtown together with Broadway professionals to present high-level performing arts productions as a way to build confidence, foster creativity, and give children tools for their future.
Skylight to Mark 60th Year
Unger will start his new position in September, which marks the start of Skylight’s 2019-2020 season and the company’s 60th anniversary. Skylight is a Milwaukee Equity theatre devoted to the full spectrum of music theatre from musicals to operas.
“I am thrilled to join the vibrant Milwaukee theatre scene at Skylight Music Theatre and build upon its vast and impressive 60-year history while helping shape its future artistic vision,” said Unger. “I look forward to collaborating with the outstanding staff, board, artists, and audiences who have made Skylight what it is today and expand Skylight’s scope and reach to welcome new audiences.”
Unger was chosen after a 10-month nationwide search facilitated by Management Consultants for the Arts. Skylight Executive Director Jack R. Lemmon said “Michael has the rare combination of experience directing both musicals and operas, as well as a passion for education, as evidenced by his amazing work with the children and families of the Sandy Hook community with NewArts. We feel Michael will energize our audiences and artists with his keen insights and creative ideas as we move into our next 60 years.”
In Newtown, Unger has directed 12 large-scale productions involving over 550 young artists onstage, backstage, and in the orchestra. “Working with NewArts for the past seven years has filled my heart to overflowing. I look forward to bringing some of that experience to support the education program at Skylight and the young musical theatre artists in the Milwaukee area,” said Unger.
“Theatre can entertain while raising life’s important questions,” he said. “I believe that a theatre must be of and for its community; not only to offer, but to glean inspiration; to learn and select programming from its desires, to consider its local resources, and to educate and broaden the horizons of its youth. I believe our cultural health, heritage, and identity depend upon the viability of organizations such as Skylight.”
Unger will remain connected to NewArts and the New York City theatre community where he has worked with such luminaries as John Kander, Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney, Susan Stroman, Richard Maltby, Jr., David Shire, Christopher Gattelli, and John Weidman.
“Michael has the skill, experience and heart needed to be Skylight’s Artistic Director,” said Skylight Board of Directors President Marta Bianchini. “This marks a tremendous new chapter for our company and for Milwaukee theatre-goers as a whole.”
Experience Ranging from Musicals to Operas
Unger has directed productions in venues of all sizes, from a 50-seat storefront-opera house to the 12,000-seat St. Louis MUNY. World premieres include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Two Point Oh, Caligula, and A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream. He is featured in the award-winning documentary film, Midsummer in Newtown, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film focuses on how the arts are working to heal the community of Newtown, CT, including Unger’s work adapting and directing Shakespeare’s play as a rock musical with the children of the performing arts non-profit, NewArts. Unger has also directed fifteen operas, two of which are available on DVD.
At The York Theatre Company, Unger has directed many productions, concerts, and benefits, and started an education program which serves middle school through college-aged students. He is also currently developing several new musical projects and operas.
Said Unger, “Family has always been the center of my life. Not only the one into which I was born (not far from Milwaukee) and the one I created with my wife, Janet Metz, but also with every family of creative artists I am fortunate to be in ‘the room’ with to make theatre happen. I consider it a great honor to have been asked to become part of the Skylight family.”
Michael Unger Biography
Michael Unger is a theatre and opera director who has directed on stages both nationally and internationally. He has been the Associate Artistic Director and Director of Education at Off-Broadway’s The York Theatre Company in New York City. He is also the Producing Artistic Director of NewArts which utilizes the performing arts as a vehicle to heal and promote creativity, collaboration, and confidence for the children in Newtown, CT.
At Off-Broadway’s The York Theatre Company, he directed You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – the first professional production of that musical to involve all Broadway-level child performers, the musical Big starring John Tartaglia, Kerry Butler and lyricist, Richard Maltby, Jr., as well as many readings and concerts.
Other directing credits include: A Christmas Carol (18 years at McCarter Theatre – designed by the legendary Ming Cho Lee with choreography by Rob Ashford), My Sister in this House (new version – Deaf West – Ovation Recommended), Grease (Paramount Theatre), Crimes of the Heart (Theatre Aspen), The Mikado, Kiss Me, Kate and Pippin (Depot Theatre), Knickerbocker Holiday and Milk and Honey (York Theatre – Mufti Series), and, upon the request of composer John Kander, new versions of The Happy Time and The Rink starring Leslie Uggams and Janet Metz.
World premieres include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Caligula, Retribution, Two Point Oh (NY Times Critics Pick), La Gioconda, and Haven. Opera directing credits include D’Albert’s Tiefland, at Sarasota Opera (soon to be on DVD and VOD on Naxos), Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, Ward’s The Crucible, Puccini’s La rondine, Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, Barber’s Vanessa, and Strauss’ Die Fledermaus at the Sarasota Opera Company, The Magic Flute (Nominated for Best Director and Best Musical – Theatre Tampa Bay Awards) and Floyd’s Susannah at St. Petersburg Opera (DVD available on Naxos), Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore and Menotti’s The Consul at Opera NJ, William Bolcom’s opera of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge for Vertical Player Repertory and Kalman’s The Duchess of Chicago at the Sverdlovsk Academic Theatre of Musical Comedy in Yekaterinburg, Russia (still running).
Unger directed From Broadway With Love benefit concerts for both the Sandy Hook, CT and Parkland, FL communities – which amassed hundreds of volunteers and major Broadway and Hollywood stars showing their support for these idyllic towns ravaged by gun violence. The concerts also featured hundreds of local children performing alongside their Broadway and Hollywood heroes. He also co-directed his production of A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
He recently directed The York Theatre’s Oscar Hammerstein Award ceremony honoring five-time Tony Award-winner Susan Stroman, hosted by Matthew Broderick, which included a cast of sixty recreating some of Stroman’s most iconic numbers, as well as appearances by many of Broadway’s most successful theatre makers.
Early in his career, at Steppenwolf Theatre in his hometown of Chicago, he assistant directed A Clockwork Orange for Terry Kinney and Buried Child for Gary Sinise.
Unger has taught acting classes in New York City for many years and has guest directed at many colleges and universities, including Juilliard, AMDA, AADA, University of Utah, Ohio Northern University, The Asolo Conservatory, and his alma mater, Ithaca College.
He is married to actress Janet Metz and his favorite productions are their twins, Phoebe and Nathaniel. More information at ungerdirect.com.
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre celebrates its 60th anniversary during the 2019-2020 season. Skylight’s mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight presents productions “Skylight Style” – bringing fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage but with the audience as well. The beautiful, intimate Cabot Theatre allows audiences to feel close to the powerful emotions on stage. More information at skylightmusictheatre.org.