It was shoes that ignited their friendship.
“I think they were Chanel,” said singer Patti LuPone concerning the footwear worn by philanthropist Adrienne Arsht when the two met backstage at a LuPone performance two months ago.
They reunited last night among 300 guests at the Italian embassy for the Signature Theatre’s Stephen Sondheim Award Gala. LuPone was the honoree for her work in seven Sondheim productions; Arsht was the gala chairwoman.
Asked how she kept guests from stepping on the train of her blue floral Oscar de la Renta, Arsht said, “I just walk really fast.”
She and LuPone talked with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Others joined Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero on the patio for drinks on an unseasonably balmy evening.
The freshly appointed ambassador said he arrived in Washington earlier this year and is looking forward to sampling the city’s musical options.
Ever the diplomat, he demurred when asked his suggestions for the best Italian restaurants in D.C.
The ambassador’s wife was absent with the flu, which also prevented Sondheim from attending.
“I have spring fever, literally,” Sondheim said in remarks read during the program by the theater’s artistic director, Eric Schaeffer.
Kenneth Feld, chief executive of Feld Entertainment, and Chevy Chase Trust Managing Director Deborah Gandy, the chairwoman of the Signature Theatre board, were at the dinner, which included sea bass en papillote and P-shaped breadsticks in homage to Patti. Afterward, young singers offered other tributes to LuPone.
The Cole Porter and Edith Piaf melodies brought many of the guests to their feet.
“I shouldn’t be singing for my supper,” LuPone said when receiving her award, adding, “I had a little too much to drink, so we’ll see what happens.” Then she broke into Sondheim’s classic “Anyone Can Whistle.”
Hovering over a decadent dessert bar, singer Tracy Lynn Olivera said, “I didn’t eat dinner because I was nervous. Now I want to eat all this sugar.”
Guests mingled in the embassy’s salons with plates of chocolate biscotti, admiring the paintings on the walls.
The theater raised about $450,000 from the event.
(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)