In many ways, it was a routine day at the Queen Street Playhouse on Sunday. The Footlight Players cast of “Head Over Heels” was preparing for the 3 p.m. matinee. They had arrived early for a photo shoot on stage.
Executive director Brian Porter was on a ladder adjusting the lights. The musical’s guest director Kyle Barnette was loitering in the lobby when a man and a woman walked off the cobblestones of Queen Street and through the front door.
“What is this theater?” the woman said, pulling the sunglasses off her face. “It looks old.”
Recognition quickly brightened Barnette’s face.
“Hi, I’m Patti,” the woman said.
“I know who you are!” Barnette said, struggling to remain respectable.
It was Patti LuPone, Queen of Broadway, star of “Evita” and “Gypsy” and “Sweeney Todd” and so many other shows, winner of two Grammy Awards, two Tony Awards and two Olivier Awards, member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.
There she was, standing inside the Queen Street Playhouse, seeking to satisfy her curiosity about the historic theater before satisfying her appetite at 82 Queen, where she had a dinner reservation.
Barnette, recalling that LuPone had a house on Edisto Island by the sea somewhere, escorted the Broadway star and her companion inside. He caught Porter’s distracted eye and said: “Hey, do you mind showing these two people around?”
Porter, atop the ladder, couldn’t see well in the dark space and thought to himself: “Really? This? Now? Ugh.” But he smiled and descended. And then nearly plotzed.
“She’s one of my all-time favorites, and certainly one of the top five Broadway ladies of all time,” he said.
And there he was, showing her around his theater, explaining the fingerprints in the bricks left by the slaves who manufactured them, the original use of the building purchased in 1934 and occupied by the Footlight Players in 1938 (it was a cotton warehouse), telling her about the enthusiasm of the local theater community.
As they made their way onto the stage, where the “Head Over Heels” cast was growing impatient for the photo shoot to start, LuPone began to draw attention.
Sara Allende, who plays Queen Glynecia, gasped. Others lost control of their jaws. Some cried for her.
“I love this theater!” LuPone said. “I’m so glad I stepped in, just to meet people. It’s so nice to see what’s going on here.”
And then she posed for a picture with the high-flying actors, full of adoration.
“It’s nice of a person of that stature to realize that even in a small theater (the actors) still know who she is, and that her career has moved them as well,” Porter said.
She lingered to chat with Barnette about her turn as Mrs. Lovett in the 2005 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” and then she left.
“How often do you go to do a musical and one of the goddesses of musical theater comes walking in the door?” Barnette mused.
For the Footlight Players cast that night, the sky sparkled with a thousand stars.