Lippa was born in Leeds, England to English parents. He emigrated to the US in October, 1967 and grew up in Oak Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He attended Oak Park High School in Oak Park, Michigan. While at the University of Michigan, Lippa studied vocal performance but eventually transferred into music education and received his bachelor’s degree in music education. After graduating from Michigan, Lippa moved to New York City in 1987 and became a middle school music teacher at Columbia Grammar and Prep School (CGPS) on the Upper West Side. He was promoted his second year at (CGPS) to dean of 7th and 8th grade students – an assistant principal position – and held that post, in addition to teaching music, until June 1991.
In 1988 Lippa was accepted into the celebrated BMI/Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop as a composer. There he met his future collaborator Tom Greenwald with whom he wrote his first musicalJohn & Jen (1993). He decided to pursue a music career full time and his musical Wild Party premiered Off-Broadway in 2000. The cast included Julia Murney, Brian d'Arcy James, Taye Diggs, and Idinia Menzel. The show won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical. Wild Party was subsequently revived as a staged concert in New York City Center's 2015 Encores! Off-Center series, with Sutton Foster starring as Queenie.
In 2010, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his score for The Addams Family. Three years later, he wrote the music for the fantasy musical, Big Fish.
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