It delights Harvard Law School graduate David Zippel that he does not have to practice law, and his work as lyricist on three successive animated Disney features probably guarantees he will never have to go slumming as an attorney. During the 1980s, he contributed lyrics to the off-Broadway revues "A ... My Name is Alice" and "Diamonds" (for director-producer Harold Prince). Zippel also penned the words to composer Doug Katsaros' music for the Off-Broadway musical "Just So" and provided the original songs for "5,6,7,8 ... Dance!", starring Sandy Duncan. He made his Broadway debut in 1989 with "City of Angels", a delightful spoof of 40s Hollywood and films noir. Framed as a story-within-a-story, it tells of screenwriter Stine and his trials and tribulations getting his script about a detective Stone filmed. Zippel wrote the snappy, witty lyrics to composer Cy Coleman's pastiche score, which included musical numbers wherein the movie characters interacted with the "real" ones. This is best epitomized in the rousing "You're Nothing Without Me", wherein the screenwriter and his fictional detective argue. The show earned six 1990 Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score (for Coleman and Zippel). He returned to the Great White Way with the musical adaptation of Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl" (1993), providing lyrics to Marvin Hamlisch's serviceable music. The show suffered in comparison to the film version and closed fairly quickly. (Zippel co-staged a revised production in Chicago in 1994, but the results were still problematic.)
Zippel received his first feature film credit providing the lyrics to Lex de Azevedo's music for the animated "The Swan Princess" (1994), based on "Swan Lake". One of their songs, the love theme "Far Longer Than Forever", earned a Golden Globe Award nomination. He began his run at Disney writing the lyrics to Alan Menken's melodies for "Hercules" (1997), including the stirring "Go the Distance" (which also garnered a Golden Globe nomination). Zippel then teamed with composer Matthew Wilder on "Mulan" (1998), about a Chinese girl who disguises herself as a boy and joins the army, and made it three in a row for Disney with "Tarzan" (1999), collaborating with Phil Collins on the song score.