Michael Unger: The Scene Stealer

Michael Unger leapt at a chance to move to Milwaukee when he heard that the Skylight Music Theatre was looking for a new artistic director.

“I’ve been looking for a theater to run for a long time,” says Michael Unger, who took over as artistic director of Skylight Music Theatre last September and has decades of experience directing musicals and operas from the western coast of Florida to New York City, Los Angeles and even Russia.

Skylight’s longevity, reputation and resources drew Unger to the job. “The fact that they’ve been around for 60 years means they’ve been doing something right,” says the Chicago native.

His primary focus in this role is to build on Skylight’s success. “My goal is to take what they have, keep that audience engaged and excite new audiences about coming to the theater.”

Unger will also oversee the nonprofit theater company’s educational programs, which includes more than 25 residences and partnerships with Milwaukee Public Schools that bring theater to students from elementary through high school.

“There’s a very robust education program here and I’m hoping – if we can find the bandwidth – to expand it,” adds Unger, 58. “Maybe we could go into more schools or add a few more activities at the theater where adults can come in and do workshops.”

Upcoming this season, Skylight will present shows like The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical comedy about quirky, awkward overachievers, and Evita, a musical about the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, as well as Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide about the absurdly unfortunate adventures of two young world travelers.

But after those shows close out the current season, the reins of creativity at Skylight will officially pass to Unger.

“We’ll announce the 2020-21 season [this month],” he says, not willing to share what shows he’s considering just yet. “So far, my intuition is leading me in a pretty good direction.”

Audiences will find out soon enough.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s February issue

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Based in his hometown of Madison, Steve is a freelance reporter and regular contributor to Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus and many other publications. During his undergraduate studies at UW-Milwaukee, he wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Shepherd Express. Now a graduate student at UW-Madison, he'll build on his 15 years of experience in print by focusing on multimedia reporting and data visualization.