Lapine, James (Elliot) 1949-

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LAPINE, James (Elliot) 1949-

PERSONAL: Born January 10, 1949, in Mansfield, OH; son of David Sanford and Lillian (Feld) Lapine; married Sarah Marshall Kernochan (a screenwriter), February 24, 1985; children: Phoebe. Education: Franklin and Marshall College, B.A., 1971; California Institute of Arts, M.F.A., 1973.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Pegasus Players, 1145 West Wilson Ave., Chicago, IL 60640.

CAREER: Worked as graphic designer and photographer; stage director and writer. Architectural League of New York, New York, NY, architectural preservationist, 1973-75; Yale University, New Haven, CT, resident graphic designer and later teacher at the drama school, beginning c. 1976; teacher at the Fashion Institute of Technology; director of stage productions, including March of the Falsettos, 1981, A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1982, Merrily We Roll Along (revised version), 1985, Sunday in the Park with George, 1986, Into the Woods, 1988 (original) and 2002 (remake), The Winter's Tale, 1989, Falsettos, 1992, Passion, 1994, The Diary of Anne Frank, 1997, Golden Child, 1998, Dirty Blonde, 1999, and The Moment When, 2000; and director of films, including Into the Woods for PBS American Playhouse, 1988, Impromptu, 1989, Life with Mikey, 1993, and Earthly Possessions, 1999.

AWARDS, HONORS: Obie Award from Village Voice, for Photograph; George Oppenheimer/Newsday Award, for Table Settings; award for best musical book from New York Drama Critics Circle, 1984, Pulitzer Prize for drama, 1985, Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award nomination from American Theatre Wing for book of a musical, 1984, and Olivier Award, all for Sunday in the Park with George; Tony Award for best musical book, award for best book of a musical from New York Drama Critics Circle, and Drama Desk

Award, all 1988, and Evening Standard Award and London Critics Award, 1991, all for Into the Woods; Outer Critics Circle Award (with William Finn) for best musical, 1990, for Falsettoland; Tony Award for best musical book, 1992, for Falsettos; Tony Awards for best musical (with Stephen Sondheim) and best book of a musical, and Drama Desk Award for best book of a musical, 1994, for Passion; honorary degree from Franklin and Marshall College, 1994.


(And director) Photograph (play; adapted from Gertrude Stein's poem of the same title), produced in New Haven at Yale Repertory Theatre, c. 1970s, produced in New York City at Open Space Theatre, 1977.

(And director) Table Settings (play; produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, March, 1980), Performing Arts Journal Publications (New York, NY), 1980.

(With William Finn, and director) March of the Falsettos (also see below; one-act musical; first produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, 1981, produced at Lincoln Center, New York, NY, 1995), Plume (New York, NY), 1993.

(And director) Twelve Dreams (play; produced Off-Broadway at Public Theatre/Martinson Hall, December, 1981), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1982, revised edition, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Stephen Sondheim, and director) Sunday in thePark with George (two-act musical; lyrics and music by Sondheim, book by Lapine; first produced on Broadway at the Booth Theatre, May 2, 1984), Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1986.

(With Stephen Sondheim, and director) Into the Woods (two-act musical; lyrics and music by Sondheim, book by Lapine; first produced in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre, November, 1986; produced on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre, November 5, 1987; produced in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre, 2002), Crown (New York, NY), 1988.

(With William Finn, and director) Falsettoland (one-act musical; first produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, June 28, 1990), Plume (New York, NY), 1993.

(With William Finn, and director) Falsettos (two-act musical comprised of March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland; first produced on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre, April 29, 1992), Plume (New York, NY), 1993.

(And director) Luck, Pluck, and Virtue (play), produced at La Jolla Playhouse, 1993, and at Atlantic Theatre Co., 1995.

(With Stephen Sondheim, and director) Passion (one-act musical; produced on Broadway at the Plymouth Theater, 1994), Theatre Communications Group (Philadelphia, PA), 1995.

Muscle (play), first produced in Chicago at Pegasus Players, June 13, 2001.

Work anthologized in Wordplay V: New American Drama, Performing Arts Journal Publications (New York, NY), 1986.

ADAPTATIONS: Into the Woods was adapted for television and broadcast on American Playhouse, PBS, 1988; Passion was filmed and broadcast by PBS, 1994.

SIDELIGHTS: James Lapine is a Broadway writer and director. Though best known for his award-winning musicals written with songwriter Stephen Sondheim, Lapine has also written dramas. He produced his first work, Photograph, in response to a challenge from students at Yale University's Repertory Theatre, where he had been teaching graphic arts. Photograph, which Lapine derived from Gertrude Stein's five-part poem, proved immensely popular at Yale, and upon playing at New York City's Open Space Theatre in 1977, it received an Obie Award from Village Voice.

Following the success of Photograph, which he had also directed, Lapine devoted himself more fully to a career in theater. In 1980 he directed the Off-Broadway production of his second play, Table Settings. This work concerns the interactions of various members of a middle-class Jewish family during several meals. Many of the characters are deliberate Jewish stereotypes—the tirelessly devoted mother, the nervous oldest son (a lawyer) married to a perky gentile—and Lapine continually exploits them for comic absurdity. "The characters and their well-nourished plights are as instantly recognizable as billboards," wrote Richard Eder in his New York Times review. "What Mr. Lapine has done is to work his particular kind of humor into them." Eder added that "quite a few of the sketches are amusing and many seem fresher than they are, thanks to the author's talent and the unexpected leaks he has let into his stereotypes."

Lapine returned to Off-Broadway in 1981 with Twelve Dreams, an explicitly psychoanalytical drama—set in New England in the late 1930s—about a woman who dreams of ominous insects and animals. The heroine's father is a Freudian psychoanalyst who proves unable to fathom his daughter's nightmares. He plays host, however, to an elderly Jungian professor who interprets the dreams as timeless exemplifications of death and rebirth. Meanwhile, Europe becomes the scene of increasing political and social upheaval. As the situation there degenerates, so too does the heroine's health. Eventually, her dreams seem somehow related to the impending catastrophes of World War II and the Holocaust. Writing in the New York Times, Frank Rich praised Twelve Dreams as "an imaginative—and well produced—effort." He conceded that the play required some "enriching, filling in," but nonetheless commended "the brilliance of [Lapine's] overall conception."

In 1984 Lapine completed Sunday in the Park with George, his first collaboration with renowned Broadway songwriter Stephen Sondheim. This unusual musical explores the nature of creativity by focusing on the struggles of two artists. The first act concerns painter Georges Seurat as he created his mid-1880s pointillist masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte. While at work on the vast canvas, Seurat contemplates his art and tunefully exchanges observations with his pregnant mistress, Dot. The second act, set one hundred years later, concerns Dot's great-grandson, also named George, who is devising an electronic light show. Much of this act details George's struggle to determine his own artistry in a world of increasing compromise and commercialism. Eventually, he finds self-confidence and strength as an artist. This breakthrough is celebrated in two of the musical's finest songs, "Children and Art" and "Move On."

Sunday in the Park with George was a great success when it began playing on Broadway in 1984. Among the musical's most enthusiastic supporters was Newsweek's Jack Kroll, who hailed it as a work "of more daring and surprise than the American musical stage has seen in a long time." For Kroll, Sunday in the Park with George proved "not only a musical about an artist but a musical about art, about its triumphs, pains and its inescapable necessity." In addition, he lauded the musical for its innovation and thematic daring, and he concluded by commending it as a work of "beauty, wit, nobility and ardor."

Lapine and Sondheim continued their collaboration with the musical Into the Woods. This work, which has been described as a children's story for adults, features such prominent fairy-tale figures as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Jack, the giant killer. In the first act, these and other characters share adventures and, as is usual in fairy tales, revel in what is apparently a happy ending. The second act, however, explores what happens to these characters as their lives continue after the happy ending. Here loved ones die, marriages degenerate into resentment and mistrust, and moral issues grow distressingly complex. By work's end several characters are dead, and the survivors, confused and frightened, are only somewhat reassured of their continued well being.

Into the Woods played Broadway beginning in 1987 and earned mixed reviews. Frank Rich, in his New York Times review, complained that Lapine's book "is as wildly overgrown as the forest," but he also acknowledged the musical's conception as "brilliant." Dan Sullivan, who reviewed Into the Woods in the Los Angeles Times, also expressed both dissatisfaction and delight. He described the first act as "dazzling" but dismissed the second one as "a letdown." In assessing the show's first half, Sullivan lauded inventive handling of the fairy-tale narratives. He wrote: "The fun . . . is to see how wittily Lapine and Sondheim work out the intersections of their stories. . . . The matching of story, character, words and music is elegant here." Sullivan claimed that the show lapsed into platitudes in the second half, though he suggested that more modifications might prove corrective. Although reviewers were reserved in their overall praise for Into the Woods, the musical became a popular success and earned Tony awards for best musical book and best score.

Into the Woods opened again on Broadway in 1995, fifteen years after the opening of the original, and featured Vanessa Williams as the witch. A Hollywood Reporter reviewer said the play "has been given an even more sprightly rendition on the somewhat overblown original." In the same publication, reviewer Ed Kaufman described the play as "playful, thoughtful, full of wit and irony, sophisticated and elegant" and concluded that it is "America's musical theater at its spectacular best."

Though he would rejoin Sondheim in a few years, Lapine's next "go-round" was with another collaborator. In 1981, Lapine teamed up with William Finn to create March of the Falsettos, a one-act musical about a gay man's search for love and happiness inside and outside the traditional American family. Nine years later, in 1990, they reunited to produce a sequel, using the same characters, that would take into account the AIDS crisis that had so heavily affected the gay community. The result was a second one-act, Falsettoland. In 1992 Finn and Lapine combined the two Off-Broadway pieces into a single bill, Falsettos, for which the artists received Tony Awards for best score and best book.

The first act of Falsettos, which was conceived in the pre-dawn of the AIDS epidemic, before the disease was widely known and understood, concerns Marvin, a Jewish businessman in his early forties who, in his middle age, emerges from the closet, leaves his wife, Trina, and son, Jason, and runs away with Whizzer, a younger man. Marvin tries desperately to keep all the parts of his suddenly scattered life together—his love affair with Whizzer, his continuing affectionate relationship with his wife and the respect of his son. Amazingly, he is successful for awhile.

Eventually, though, the threads begin to unravel: Trina finds romance with Mendel, the family psychiatrist; Jason approaches puberty and notices girls; and Whizzer's fickleness dooms his relationship with Marvin. The act ends with a father-son reconciliation that nevertheless suggests a rocky road ahead. Two years pass between acts. During that time, Marvin explains in the opening number, a truce has been called in the family, Trina and Mendel remain happily married, Jason is being prepared for his bar mitzvah, and Marvin, still unattached, has become close friends with a lesbian couple next door. Whizzer rejoins the clan at one of Jason's little league baseball games and soon he and Marvin are together again. Complications arise when Whizzer is hospitalized with an unnamed malady—obviously meant to be AIDS—and Jason cannot decide whether to go through with his bar mitzvah. The sad yet funny solution, of course, and the climax to the show, is to hold the event in the hospital room where Whizzer lays dying.

Several critics commented on the unique style of Falsettos—its ability to be alternately tragic and hilarious and its inventive, soul-stirring songs masked by irreverent titles like "Four Jews in a Room Bitching" and "My Father's a Homo." In the New York Times Frank Rich suggested, "The songs are so fresh that the show is only a few bars old before one feels the unmistakable, revivifying charge of pure talent." Ken Mandelbaum of Theatre Week magazine wrote, "Though the second half of Falsettoland is profoundly moving, the first half is hilarious. Together, the two halves add up to a wonderful evening." A few reviewers placed the separate acts of Falsettos in their historical context. Gerald Weales noted in Commonweal, "Surprisingly, since it dates from the innocent gay days before AIDS was clearly perceived as the horror it has become, the first act is darker, tougher, funnier, more inventive than the later work." For Weales the "chirpiness" of the second act detracts from its serious themes. Thomas Disch, on the other hand, writing for the Nation, felt that "Act I offers little that Act II doesn't provide in a more emotionally intense and/or musically effective form."

For his next creative effort, Lapine joined ranks with Sondheim again to produce Passion, an opera-style musical based on Passione d'Amore, a 1981 Italian film by Ettore Scola, which was in turn based on Fosca, an 1869 novel by Igino Ugo Tarchetti. The plot is a variation of sorts on Beauty and the Beast, told largely through a series of letters the principal characters exchange with one another. The setting is Italy in 1863. Giorgio, a handsome captain in the Italian army, has been transferred to a provincial outpost and must leave behind Clara, his beautiful, married mistress. When he arrives at his post he meets the regiment's commanding officer, Colonel Ricci, and his sickly cousin, the homely, disturbed Fosca.

When Giorgio shows Fosca some mild kindness, she is immediately enamored of him. Her love leads to obsession, though Giorgio makes it clear he has no feelings for her other than friendship. She eventually falls ill, pining for her captain, and Giorgio rushes to her bedside to console her. His sympathy for the pathetic Fosca leads him to agree to write a letter to her—an expression of love that she herself dictates.

Soon after, Giorgio also becomes sick and is sent home to recuperate. While there he asks Clara to leave her husband and run away with him, but she refuses, for the sake of her son. Giorgio returns to his camp where Colonel Ricci challenges him to a duel over the honor of Fosca. On the evening before the duel Giorgio visits Fosca and surrenders to the passion she has awakened in his heart. While he loved Clara, he tells her, no one has ever loved him the way Fosca has.

In the duel the next morning Giorgio wounds the Colonel, then falls to the ground with an hysterical scream. The musical ends with the captain in a sanatorium, recovering from a mental breakdown. The Colonel has recovered from his wound and Fosca has died, leaving Giorgio to ruminate on the depth of passion they have shared.

Like their earlier collaborations, Passion garnered Sondheim and Lapine several awards, including Tony Awards for best musical, best original score (Sondheim) and best book (Lapine). Critical reaction, however, was less enthusiastic. In a New Yorker review titled "Love in Gloom," John Lahr complained, "What we get in this listless epistolary musical, where the main characters spend much of their time singing love letters to and from each other, is the results of Sondheim's recent experiments with the play's director and librettist, James Lapine: not the big heart but the dead heart; not the joy of the pleasure dome but the hush of the lecture hall; not dancing but reading." John Simon, in New York, took Lapine and Sondheim to task for not providing greater variety within the book and music. "There have been musicals about which the complaint was that all the songs sounded similar," noted Simon, "this one goes a step further: All the songs sound the same. The score is a glutinous mass; although there are ample passages of dialogue, it comes across as through-composed."

Robert Brustein, however, revealed in the New Republic, "I know it is not seemly for a drama critic to admit to experiencing excessive feeling, especially over a work that, despite its (grudgingly given) Tony awards, is drawing a lot of scorn in sophisticated theater circles. But I am compelled to tell you that . . . Passion held me in its grip from the opening chords and had me sobbing uncontrollably at the end." Brustein's explanation for the abuse Passion had been taking in the press was that it "has been misidentified as a musical and mislocated in a Broadway house. The work is clearly an opera, and were it sitting where it belongs, on the stage of the Houston Grand Opera or the Chicago Lyric, I'm convinced it would have elicited the kind of respect it truly deserves."

Lapine's next directorial ventures were Dirty Blonde and The Moment When. Dirty Blonde is about a group of heterosexual Mae West fans, including a couple who meets at Mae West's grave. Charles Isherwood in Variety remarked that "as a piece of literature, Dirty Blonde is strictly small potatoes," but qualified that "Lapine's light-handed, fleet-of-foot direction perfectly compliments the script." The Moment When follows a naive woman from the Midwest, who meets and marries an artist and becomes a mother. The play touches on her later career success. Critics responded unfavorably to the play. Writing in Back Stage Irene Backalenick remarked that "nothing new is made of old themes, either in substance or style."

The book for Muscle was written by Lapine, and the play was directed by Gareth Hendee. The play features a Cornell grad named Max Riddle (played by Rob Hancock) who takes a job in publishing. Displeased with his scrawny physique, Max heads for the gym, where he meets two body builders happy to serve as trainers. Max experiments with steroids and has a relationship with a dancer named Alice. Writing in Variety, Chris Jones noted that "Max and Alice have no backstory and insufficient stage time together." The same reviewer claimed the play had an intriguing concept, but described it as "crass and cartoonish."

Lapine continues to write and direct for both the theater and cinema, and usually works on several projects simultaneously. "I like to keep busy," the writer/director told the Los Angeles Times. "I seem to function better when I'm doing a few things at once." The variety of subjects he has tackled in the past makes future projects difficult to predict, even for Lapine himself. "I like to work intuitively," he claimed. "Part of the fun is the mystery of where one simple idea can take you."



Advocate, June 6, 2000, Don Shewey, review of DirtyBlonde, p. 72.

America, September 24, 1994, p. 25.

Back Stage, March 31, 2000, Irene Backalenick, review of The Moment When, p. 56; May 17, 2002, Julius Novick, review of Into the Woods, p. 7.

Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1984; December 7, 1986.

Commonweal, October 9, 1992, pp. 22-23.

Explicator, summer, 1997, Brian Sutton, "Sondheim's and Lapine's Into the Woods," pp. 233-237.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 7, 1987.

Hollywood Reporter, February 12, 2002, Ed Kaufman, "Sondheim's Lush and Lovely Woods: Exploration of Brothers Grimm Characters Is Musical Theater at Its Best," p.14; May 1, 2002, Frank Scheck, review of Into the Woods, pp. 9-11.

Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1984; November 26, 1984; November 6, 1987; August 1, 1993, p. 3.

Nation, June 8, 1992, pp. 797-799; June 13, 1994, p. 843.

New Leader, June 1, 1992, pp. 30-31; July 4, 1994, pp. 22-23.

New Republic, August 1, 1994, pp. 29-30.

Newsweek, May 14, 1984, pp. 83-4.

New York, May 23, 1994, pp. 70-71; April 17, 1995, pp. 111-112.

New Yorker, May 23, 1994, p. 89.

New York Times, March 24, 1979; January 15, 1980; February 1, 1980; December 22, 1981; April 29, 1984; May 3, 1984; May 13, 1984; March 6, 1987; October 9, 1987; November 1, 1987; November 6, 1987; January 7, 1990; June 24, 1990; June 29, 1990, p. C3; June 13, 1994, p. C11.

Playbill, January, 1988.

Theatre Week, July 16, 1990, pp. 42-43.

Time, May 14, 1984; May 23, 1994, p. 68.

Times (London, England), May 5, 1984.

Variety, May 8, 2002, Charles Isherwood, review of Dirty Blonde, p. 86; June 25, 2001, Chris Jones, review of Muscle, p. 30; May 6, 2002, Charles Isherwood, review of Into the Woods, p. 48.

Washington Post, November 6, 1987.*