On March 30, 2015, Virginia's Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre will honor the multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway playwright and director James Lapine with the company's sixth Stephen Sondheim Award. The award, established in 2009 in honor of America's most influential musical theatre writer and composer, will be presented at a black-tie Gala Benefit at the Embassy of Italy. The Sondheim Award Gala will benefit Signature Theatre's artistic, education, and community programs.
"With the opening of Sunday in the Park with George in our 25th Anniversary season and the upcoming film of Into the Woods, it is more than fitting that we honor James Lapine with this year's Stephen Sondheim Award," says Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer. "Their collaborations have brought us legendary shows and it will be a thrill to toast James in March at the Embassy of Italy."
"James has been my good friend and collaborator over the course of thirty-two years, and it's about time I thanked him ostentatiously," says Stephen Sondheim. "Signature Theatre has given me the opportunity, and I'm grabbing it."
"I am thrilled to receive the Sondheim Award from the wonderful Signature Theatre," says James Lapine. "I have already received the invaluable gift of over twenty-five years of collaboration and friendship with Steve. Now I get to have his award, too! I am most grateful."
James Lapine's collaboration with Stephen Sondheim began in 1984 with the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Sunday in the Park with George and continued with Into the Woods in 1987 and Passion in 1994. Mr. Lapine directed all three productions and created the musical revue Sondheim on Sondheim, which premiered on Broadway in 2010. He co-produced and directed the HBO documentary Six By Sondheim, for which he received an Emmy nomination and wrote the screenplay for the upcoming film version of Into the Woods which will be released Christmas 2014.
Signature is thrilled to salute the HRH Foundation as the lead sponsor of the 2015 Signature Theatre Sondheim Award Gala. Helen Lee Henderson, Executive Director of the HRH Foundation, is proud to be the lead gala sponsor. "I am especially honored to support the celebration of James Lapine and his extraordinary contribution to the American musical theater canon," says Helen Henderson. "His partnership with Stephen Sondheim has produced some of the most striking and innovative musicals of the 20th century."
James Lapine was born in 1949 in Mansfield, Ohio and lived there until his early teens when his family moved to Stamford, Connecticut. He attended public schools before entering Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he majored in History. He went on to get an MFA in Design from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California.
After graduate school, he moved to New York City where he worked part-time as a waiter; a page and tour guide at NBC; a free-lance photographer and graphic designer; and an architectural preservationist for the Architectural League of NY. One of his free-lance jobs was designing the magazine of the Yale School of Drama, Yale/Theater. The dean of the School of Drama, Robert Brustein subsequently offered Lapine a full-time job designing all of the printed materials for the School of Drama and the Yale Repertory Theatre as well as a faculty position teaching a course in advertising design.
While at Yale, his students urged him to direct a play during the annual January period when both faculty and students undertook a project outside of their areas of study or expertise. At their suggestion Lapine directed a Gertrude Stein play, Photograph. The play was five acts, and just three pages in length. Assembling students and friends, it was presented in New Haven and came to the attention of director Lee Breuer, who helped arrange for a small performance space in Soho to produce the work for three weeks. The production was enthusiastically received and won Lapine an Obie award.
Lapine was then approached to create a new piece for the Music-Theatre Group. He wrote and directed a workshop version of Twelve Dreams, a work inspired by a Jungian case history. The play was later presented at the Public Theatre and revived by Lincoln Center Theatre. Lapine eventually left the visual arts for a career in the theatre where he has also written and directed the plays Table Settings; Luck, Pluck and Virtue; The Moment When; Fran's Bed; Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing; and Act One, a stage adaptation of the famous Moss Hart autobiography.
On Broadway he has written the book for and directed Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George; Into the Woods; Passion; and the multi-media revue Sondheim on Sondheim. He also directed Merrily We Roll Along as part of Encores Series at New York City Center. With William Finn he has collaborated on March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, later presented on Broadway as Falsettos; A New Brain; Muscle; and Little Miss Sunshine. He has also directed on Broadway David Henry Hwang's Golden Child; The Diary of Anne Frank; Michel Legrand's Amour; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; and the 2012 revival of Annie. Among his many off-Broadway offerings were three Shakespeare productions for the Public Theatre.
He co-produced and directed the HBO documentary Six By Sondheim, for which he received an Emmy nomination and has also directed three feature films. Lapine wrote the screenplay for the upcoming film version of Into the Woods directed by Rob Marshall which will be released Christmas 2014. He has been nominated for twelve Tony Awards winning on three occasions and has received five Drama Desk Awards, the Peabody Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2011, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
Lapine is a member of the Dramatist Guild Council and for the last thirteen years has been a mentor for TDF's Open Doors Program. He currently lives in New York City.
Photo by Walter McBride