Celebrated as the co-originator of among the very advanced musicals on the Broadway stage, James Lapine was born on January 10, 1949, in Mansfield, Ohio. He moved on to Pennsylvania and California for school, and finally landed in The Big Apple, where he was employed as a freelancer, including as a designer for the Yale School of Drama magazine. Lapine can also be a revered filmmaker. Photography and graphic design caught Lapine’s imagination, yet, and he soon moved to Valencia, California, to pursue an MFA in design in the California Institute of the Arts.
After finishing his schooling, Lapine moved to Nyc, where he held several occupations, including server, NBC tour guide, freelance photographer, graphic artist and architectural preservationist. He also did freelance design work with the magazine for the storied Yale School of Drama. Lapine’s work so impressed the school’s dean, Robert Brustein, that he requested Lapine not only to design every one of the school’s printed content but in addition to join the faculty as a design teacher.
The creation of Picture, which in 1977 was revolutionary in its use of image projections, moved to an off Broadway house in Nyc, and its own success earned Lapine an Obie, his first of many theatre awards. His next staged job, Twelve Dreams, also joined his visual sensibilities along with his fascination with history, memory and surrealism. Nevertheless, it was Lapine’s work with composers William Finn and Stephen Sondheim that could result in his most famous achievements. In 1981, he and Finn collaborated on March of the Falsettos, an investigation of Jewish family life that evolved over the past few years in the Tony Award winning Falsettoland.
A dialogue with Sondheim, during which Lapine noted the artist was missing in the story of the painting, made them understand the dramatic pressure necessary to get a play. The ensuing Sunday in the Park with George became a groundbreaking musical that will go to win two Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley said of the show: “You actually did consider that it was the head of the artist that summoned this vision into being. Or instead a melding of the artistic thoughts of Seurat, Mr. Sondheim, [and] Mr. Lapine.”
He also directed numerous productions, including Dirty Blonde, The Diary of Anne Frank and a current revival of Annie. Lapine is wed to Academy Award-winning filmmaker, chanteuse and novelist Sarah Kernochan. Collectively they’ve a daughter, food writer Phoebe Lapine, and produced the 1991 movie Impromptu, which starred Hugh Grant, Judy Davis and Mandy Patinkin.
Lapine in addition has composed or directed other movies, including Earthly Possessions, starring Susan Sarandon, as well as the recent HBO documentary produced with former theater critic Frank Rich, Six by Sondheim, which features the information on the composer’s life as told through six tunes. In 2011, Lapine was inducted to the Theater Hall of Fame. He also composed the 2014 Disney movie version of his stage success, Into the Woods, starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp.