David Zippel

American lyricist David Zippel (b. Easton, PA, May 17, 1954) has, among his many awards and honors, a Tony® (for City of Angels 1989), a Drama Desk Award (City of Angels), two ASCAP Film & Television Awards (the film version of City of Angels 1998 and the animated Disney Hercules 1997), an Annie (in 1998 for Disney’s Mulan), and several nominations (Academy Awards® for Hercules and Mulan, Golden Globes® for the same and The Swan Princess 1995). He has worked with a variety of composers, among them Cy Coleman, Marvin Hamlisch, Phil Collins, Alan Menken, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. He has also written a number of free-standing songs for the pop market (“There’s No One like You”).

David Joel Zippel grew up in Easton, writing parody lyrics to popular tunes making fun of his high school teachers. He went on to the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a “bizarre musical about politics called Rotunda” and graduated in 1976. He headed for Harvard Law School in the expectation of becoming a theatrical attorney, but was sidetracked when he met Barbara Cook’s accompanist Wally Harper at a concert of hers. Harper was looking for a songwriting partner, and Zippel leaped at the opportunity. Two of the songs they wrote together were featured in Cook’s Carnegie Hall concert and on the live recording, and Zippel’s career was launched.

City of Angels (1989) was Zippel’s first full-length musical and, with 879 performances, his most successful. With book by Larry Gelbart and music by Cy Coleman, it won Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Actor, Best Featured Actress, and Best Set Design. Its outstanding song is “You Can Always Count on Me,” still one of Zippel’s own favorites.

Adapted for the stage by Neil Simon from his own 1977 screenplay, The Goodbye Gir (1993) with music by Marvin Hamlisch received five Tony® nominations and, for David Zippel, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics. Soon thereafter, Zippel turned his attentions to television (Allegra’s Window 1994, theme song to Veronica’s Closet 1997) and Hollywood, where he spent several years writing lyrics for animated Disney films. The first of these was Hercules (1997) (“Zero to Hero”), a full-fledged musical scored by Alan Menken; the song “Go the Distance” got an Oscar® nomination for Best Original Song and became a Number One single.

Mulan (1998) (“Reflection,” “True to Your Heart”), with music by Matthew Wilder and lyrics by Zippel, received Academy Award® nominations for Best Original Musical Score, both music and lyrics. A year later, Zippel worked with Phil Collins on the songs in Tarzan (1999).

Zippel and Wilder returned to writing for the stage in 2003, with Princesses, loosely inspired by A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Under Zippel’s direction, it premiered at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut but did not continue on to Broadway. Two years later, The Woman in White (2005), a musical adaptation of the Wilkie Collins novel with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, brought Zippel another Tony® nomination for his lyrics and ran for three months. In Britain, however, it took five nominations for Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Musical.

A concert staging at Town Hall in New York in May 2008 introduced Pamela’s First Musical, written by Zippel with the late Cy Coleman and Wendy Wasserstein. A number of unproduced works remain in Zippel’s arsenal: with Alan Menken a projected extravaganza on Busby Berkeley called Buzz!!, a near-finished project with Coleman, The Private Lives of Napoleon and Josephine, and Going Hollywood (1981), an adaptation of Once in a Lifetime by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, with music by Jonathan Sheffer.

– LEC

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