JOHN KANDER: For the better part of a year I worked closely with Michael Unger in his capacity as assistant director of Steel Pier. I felt at that time that he was extraordinarily bright and talented. His organizational skill and ability to work with people, coupled with his imagination and sensitivity, pointed clearly, I suspected, to an important career as a director in his own right. Then, some months later, I saw a production of a Marivaux comedy that he had directed and was delighted to have my suspicions confirmed. It was funny, touching and extremely inventive without being “show-offish.” It is exciting, in a profession that is filled with fakes, to come across a director so solidly grounded yet filled with imagination. I’m sure he’s headed for a bright future. Michael is the real thing.
MIKE OCKRENT: Michael worked with me for a period of three years: first, on King David (Disney), then on A Christmas Carol (Madison Square Garden ’96 and ‘97). He is an incredibly able, smart and clever man. He is full of energy, ideas and zest. All his ideas for improving text, clarification of narrative, stage movement, etc., have been smart and inventive. I recently saw his Off-Broadway production, Retribution. This was a difficult play – well directed and conceived by Michael. He clearly has visual flair as well as a good sense of structure. So I unhesitatingly recommend him as a director. I’d welcome the competition!!
SUSAN STROMAN: I have choreographed two productions (Steel Pier on Broadway and A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden) on which Michael Unger served as assistant director. He is a powerhouse… organized, efficient, and completely on top of everything. He is also easy to work with and has the very valuable ability to work comfortably with members of both the technical and the creative teams. He is extremely dedicated to his work and produces marvelous results. He has embraced technology by using his impressive computer skills to support and enhance a very ephemeral, non-technological art – something not too many people could do. It is obvious that he has spent time carefully honing his craft. He is highly respected by the teams of both Steel Pier and A Christmas Carol. I recently had the good fortune of seeing the Off-Broadway production of Retribution in which Michael’s direction was clear and fluid. He did an exemplary job. I would truly welcome the chance to work with him again. He would be a tremendous asset to any production.
EMILY MANN: Every year Michael makes the Christmas season at McCarter one long celebration. His work with the actors of all ages, but especially his genius in working with children, makes his Christmas Carol unique, a great gift to our audience and to our community. The production itself is stylish, fun, intelligent, deeply moving and gorgeously staged. Michael’s directorial hand is sure, consistent, and precise. By bringing out the best in his designers, actors, and technicians his work continues to grow. We see the audience returning in droves year after year. The best compliment I can give him is that this difficult and complicated production looks effortless. His work is exquisite. We bless him and thank him for all his magnificent work. Michael is a terrific artist.
RICHARD MALTBY, JR.: I have known Michael Unger for over 14 years in both a professional and a personal capacity. Michael was my personal assistant for 2 years, assisting me during a workshop production of the musical Arthur, as well as the Off-Broadway production of Closer Than Ever, which I wrote and directed.
Michael is one of the most talented young directors to come along in quite a while. He is excellent with actors and designers, has very strong and clear visions of what his productions should be – and, rare among young directors, is gifted at helping to shape new works as well. He is at home with musical and straight plays, modern plays and classics, and works extremely well with writers. He is very organized and would be an excellent choice for a theatre on any level.
In recent years, I have seen six productions that Michael has directed – ranging from an emotionally-charged Off-Broadway premiere, to two Marivaux plays (one in French), to his production of A Christmas Carol at the McCarter Theatre. In each case, these productions displayed Michael’s many talents: his ability to lead a group of disparate actors through the creative process to an ensemble style, his strong artistic aesthetic, his relentless pursuit of perfection and his desire to challenge and be challenged by the material he directs. Even when the theatrical resources were limited, each production had an impressive unity and power.
I have also had an opportunity to watch Michael shepherd the musical Whatnot (by the writers of When Pigs Fly) from script to reading to full-scale Off-Broadway production. I read early drafts of the script and watched the project improve through Michael’s guidance. As a member of the Richard Rodgers Production Grant committee, I was glad to join the committee in giving the musical a production grant.
I come in contact with many young professionals, but rarely am I affected in such a positive way. I think Michael has it in him to make major contributions to the professional theatre and I know Michael would be an invaluable asset to any theatre.
TERRY KINNEY: This letter is a hearty, committed recommendation for Michael Unger who assisted me on my production of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange at Steppenwolf Theatre. This was an epic production and I couldn’t have done it without Michael. He was not my assistant so much as my collaborator, organizer, right-hand. He gave extensive individual attention to the actors and designers when I was too ensconced in the “big picture” and when I departed after opening night, Michael maintained the show scrupulously. The actors and technicians respected him completely. He displayed a peculiar amiability throughout all of our trials and tribulations and came up with some of our best ideas. Michael most recently assisted me on Sam Shepard’s new play, Eyes For Consuela, at Manhattan Theatre Club. His eye has been indispensable in this most recent process. He participates in a total sense, backing my vision but challenging it as well.
Finally, I will speak of Michael’s own direction. I saw his production of Overmyer’s In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe at Juilliard. It was a delight: sharp and clear, funny and edgy – looking like much more than it’s shoestring budget should allow. In complete contrast, I also saw Michael’s production of Marivaux’s Inconstant Lovers at the Barrington Stage Company. Again, Michael showed grace and humor in what I found to be a wonderfully accessible production. I am quite proud of his growth as a director. I couldn’t recommend anyone more highly than I do Michael.
GARY SINISE: Michael Unger was a life saver to me during one of the busiest times of my life. He was my assistant on several films, as well as the assistant director on my production of Buried Child at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and on Broadway. His work was invaluable to me and enormously helpful to the actors. He has very good instincts, a very good eye and many distinguished credits to his own name. He would be an excellent director and collaborator for any theatre organization. I highly recommend him for your consideration.
DAVID (TOMMY) THOMPSON: I am extremely pleased to say Michael Unger is one of those rare directors who has an ability to answer the needs of any project as they arise. He has directed my adaptation of A Christmas Carol at The McCarter Theatre for the past three years to the best reviews and box office that production has ever gotten. Michael was also the assistant director for the Broadway production of Steel Pier. As everyone knows, when you are in the middle of a high-pressured situation, you want to work with someone who will go above and beyond the call of duty. Michael always does just that.
Most importantly, Michael always offers extremely intelligent and thoughtful insights that are extraordinarily constructive and useful. Of course, he also has a long list of talents and skills that distinguish his work on a number of his own productions. I can’t recommend Michael highly enough. Whatever the task, job, assignment — whether it is a director, a producer, a governor, the President — Michael Unger can do it.
JULIANNE BOYD: I am writing this letter to recommend Michael Unger as a director to you. Michael directed a production of Marivaux’s The Inconstant Lovers (Changes of Heart) for my theatre, Barrington Stage, which won a “BRAVO Best Pick of ‘97/’98” award. He did a marvelous job directing a very difficult play. He was clever, inventive and had a wonderful sense of comedy. The cast was very responsive to his direction and loved working with him. Michael is a team player and worked marvelously with our entire company. He understood the financial limitations of our three year old theatre and was always willing to help solve a problem with a creative solution. I recommend him highly to you. If you would like to speak to me in more detail, please do not hesitate to call me.
MARK WALDROP: Michael Unger is an incredibly resourceful, imaginative, and energetic young man with a wide-range of experience and a great love of Theatre. Michael produced Whatnot, a musical which I co-wrote and directed Off-Broadway in 1991. In that capacity he was instrumental in seeing that the show was entered in The Richard Rodgers Competition for New Musicals. Whatnot won the top award, and it was that prize money which assured our production. Even so, we were working on a tight budget and Michael’s versatility and can-do attitude made all the difference. As we created the piece, Michael enthusiastically tackled a multitude of challenges — from locating and promoting the donation of a pair of airplane seats to wiring a costume with chaser lights. In every facet of his work, he went above and beyond expectations. In addition, throughout the rehearsal period he provided smart and sensitive advice on the development of the story, the characters and the staging.
Knowing how smart Michael is and that he’s a fine actor in his own right, it came as no surprise to me that he is also an excellent director. I had the pleasure of seeing his production of Taming of the Shrew in Los Angeles in 1992. It was fast-moving and playful, freshened without being distorted. That’s what impressed me most — the production had a strong and arresting overall concept which never got in the way of what Shakespeare wrote. Michael also built the extremely clever and versatile unit set for the show — another example of the 110% commitment he brings to any project he does.
What makes Michael an outstanding candidate for a position at your theatre is his practical experience with all disciplines which must be harnessed together in a successful production. He is already well on his way to becoming a director to be reckoned with. I’m sure he would be a tremendous asset to your theatre.
LILLIAN GARRETT-GROAG: I recently had the good fortune of working with Michael Unger, who was my assistant on the Mark Taper Forum’s Taper Too Classics Lab of Feydeau’s A Flaw in the Ointment. His considerable abilities as an actor/director made him an invaluable contributor to that production and his discretion and impeccable sense of etiquette a pleasure to have around. With one of the kindest dispositions I have ever encountered, he anticipated and solved problems, he helped actors and technicians perform their tasks with unstinting energy and seeming limitless good cheer and made my work as adapter/director very smooth. He would be an invaluable asset to any company that would hire him.