James Elliot Lapine is an American stage director, filmmaker, playwright, screenwriter, and librettist. He has won the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical three times, for Into the Woods, Falsettos, and Passion. He has frequently collaborated with Stephen Sondheim and William Finn.
Lapine was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the son of Lillian (Feld) and David Sanford Lapine. He graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1971.
Lapine did graduate study in both photography and graphic design at the California Institute of the Arts.He was a photographer, graphic designer, and architectural preservationist and taught design at the Yale School of Drama. At Yale University he wrote an adaptation and directed the Gertrude Stein play Photograph, which was produced Off-Broadway at the Open Space in SoHo in 1977. He proceeded to write and direct Off-Broadway plays and musicals, working with composer William Finn on March of the Falsettos in 1981 as director; the musical won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play.
In 1982 he was introduced to Stephen Sondheim, and they decided to work on a musical together, which became Sunday in the Park With George, with Lapine writing the book and directing with Sondheim's music and lyrics. It was first produced Off-Broadway in 1983 and then transferred to Broadway in 1984. The pair's next musical was Into the Woods, which premiered on Broadway in 1987. Lapine won both the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award, Best Book of a Musical. They then collaborated on the musical Passion, for which Lapine wrote the book and directed. The musical ran on Broadway in 1994 and in the West End in 1996, receiving a nomination for the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, and winning the Tony Award for Best Musical and Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, among other awards and nominations. Their latest collaboration is the revue Sondheim on Sondheim, presented on Broadway in 2010 and winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical Revue.
In 1992 Lapine returned to working with William Finn, and wrote the book and directed the Broadway musical Falsettos. Lapine wrote the book, with Finn composing the music, for A New Brain, which premiered Off-Broadway in 1998. They later worked together with Lapine directing Finn's musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which premiered Off-Broadway in 2005 and then transferred to Broadway. The latest Finn-Lapine work is Little Miss Sunshine, which premiered in 2011 at the La Jolla Playhouse (California).
Lapine has also directed dramas, including Dirty Blonde, which ran Off-Broadway and on Broadway in 2000. Lapine was nominated for the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award, for Best Direction of a Play.
Lapine directed the 2012 Broadway revival of Annie. He wrote a stage adaption of the Moss Hart autobiography, Act One, which premiered on Broadway at the Lincoln Center Beaumont Theater in April 2014.
In 1991 he directed his first film, Impromptu, which has a screenplay by his wife, Sarah Kernochan. The story revolves around the romance of George Sand and Chopin, and starred Judy Davis and Hugh Grant. He followed with Life With Mikey with Michael J. Fox for Disney. In 1993 he directed Passion, starring the original Broadway cast, for television. He directed the film version of Anne Tyler's novel Earthly Possessions, starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff, for HBO in 1999. He wrote the screenplay for Disney's film version of Into the Woods (2014), directed by Rob Marshall. He wrote and directed the film Custody in 2015 with Viola Davis, Hayden Panettiere and Catalina Sandino Moreno.
Lapine received the 2015 Mr. Abbott Award at a special gala on October 19, 2015. The award is presented by the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation "in recognition of a lifetime of exceptional achievement in the theatre."