Honorary Doctor of Letters
Citation delivered by Professor Theo Farrell, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Student Life) at the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Michael Anthony Cassel as a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) on 3 May 2022.
Chancellor, I present Michael Anthony Cassel.
Theatre production in Australia would not be what it is today without the undeniable mark that national and international musical theatre producer Michael Cassel has made on the industry. Over the last twenty years, through his passion and unwavering commitment, Michael has brought acclaimed international productions to Australian theatres with much fanfare and success, all whilst further building his name and brand nationally and internationally. Michael’s sheer determination, commitment, forward thinking and dynamic character is what has catapulted him into the successful producer and CEO he is today.
Raised locally in Minnamurra, Michael was the eldest of his builder turned public servant father and real estate mother’s four children. Even from the early age of eight, Michael had ambitions to be part of the entertainment industry, at first as a performer, pitching himself to Neighbours casting agent Jan Russ and later to Ray Martin, offering to co-host The Midday Show. It wasn’t until his first trip at twelve years old to see Harry M. Miller’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar that Michael’s career trajectory essentially changed from performer to producer. He started to put on shows at home, and caravan parks when on vacation, charging people to come and watch.
By fifteen, Michael had successfully gone bigger, with his sponsored production of the Carols by Candlelight event in Kiama seeing more than 3,000 people attending and officially establishing his company MC Productions. Over the years, Michael’s exponential growth of Carols by Candlelight required larger spaces and greater sponsorship, resulting in the event moving from Kiama to Wollongong and eventually making its way to WIN Stadium, with more than 10,000 people attending and national organisations as primary sponsors.
At 18, while still studying for the HSC, he began producing the Illawarra Business Awards and continued to do so for more than a decade. He was also employed by Tourism Wollongong, in charge of putting on large events with his quickly growing team. In January 1999, Michael staged the Australia Day Spectacular, which saw nearly 55,000 people attend and was the biggest concert ever staged in Wollongong at the time. It was in that same month, after relentlessly writing to Harry M. Miller, that Michael began working for the great producer.
At twenty-one, Michael was hired to help set up the Disney Theatrical Group’s Australian operations. Hired as a personal assistant at the time, he was soon put in charge of running local productions of The Lion King in Melbourne and later in China, for its inaugural tour, at the behest of the President and Producer, Thomas Schumacher. Schumacher went on to offer Michael a job in New York as Director of International, a position he held for the next five years.
In 2011, Michael and his wife Camille – a local of Werri Beach – moved back to Sydney, where they live with their children Eveleigh and Vaughn. The Michael Cassel Group was formed in 2013 and within the first year, Michael had secured the Australian rights to worldwide phenomenon Les Misérables, beginning a relationship with the world’s greatest producer, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, and he has gone on to produce many Australian and International tours, concerts and events.
Michael’s tenacity has seen him enjoy a global meteoric rise, gaining global momentum and allowing him to revolutionise Australian and international theatre. The global innovative leadership position of his company has ensured that Australia and Australian talent in theatre and live entertainment are equally represented on the world stage. Regularly interviewed by national media outlets to comment on the performing arts industry, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael shone a light on the industry and was its advocate, ensuring financial support for the arts sector. His continued championing and planning ensured that there was an industry to return to as we emerged from the pandemic. The support and respect of both his industry and patrons was exemplified in the fact that he was the first producer in the world to successfully launch three shows in 2021 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hamilton, and The Lion King.
Michael’s work has not gone unnoticed and he has been the recipient of several theatre awards. In 2015, he received a Helpmann Award for Best Musical and a Music Theatre Production Award from the Green Room Awards Association. In 2018, he again received the Helpmann Award for Best Musical, as well as a Most Outstanding Main Stage Musical Award and the Outstanding Contribution to Theatre Award from The Glugs.
Chancellor, Michael is a visionary, with a passion for the arts and a head for business. He has tirelessly built his brand through determination, commitment and hard work. A born leader, Michael is a role model for any aspiring artist or business person and an exemplar of the success that can grow from a dream to reality through passion, sheer grit, dedication and determination.
It is a privilege to present Michael Anthony Cassel to be admitted as an Honorary Doctor of Letters of the University of Wollongong.