Ain’t No Sunshine When He’s Gone: Did Bullying Extinguish One of Broadway’s Brightest Lights?

mary sunshine
Jeff Loeffelholz brings down the house as Mary Sunshine in the Broadway musical Chicago.  Loeffelholz was one of the longest running standbys in Broadway history until he ended his own life June 28.

There’s a big reveal toward the end of the Broadway musical Chicago: busybody reporter and social butterfly Mary Sunshine is revealed to in reality be a man, the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Depending on who was playing the role often depended on the reaction of the audience. When Jeff Loeffelholz was on, the reaction was always the same – gasps of shock and surprise. He was just that believable. The theatergoers didn’t think it was a drag queen or a transvestite. They were honestly led to believe that Mary Sunshine was a woman because Loeffelholz, with a voice that was as pure and crisp as any soprano on Broadway, sold it with all his heart and soul.

On Friday June 29th, surrounded by his closest circle of friends and his partner of 33 years, Peter De La Cruz, Loeffelholz elicited gasps one final time as he was taken off life support the day after he attempted to take his own life. It was a touching, tragic curtain call.

It was also one tragedy that should’ve never played on Broadway. Loeffelholz took his own life almost a week after a  rehearsal with Chicago’s director, Walter Bobbie, as well as the show’s musical director, Leslie Stifelman.

Under Contract

Loeffelholz had a rehearsal with Bobbie and Stifelman on Friday June 22 at 1 p.m. Bobbie showed up 1:15; Loeffelholz had been at the Ambassador Theater since 12:45.

While standby and understudy rehearsals with the show’s original director are not unheard of, usually such rehearsals after a production’s initial opening is handled by the musical director, dance captain, and the production stage manager. Loeffelholz hadn’t had a rehearsal with Bobbie in over two decades.

This was unusual. Loeffelholz could sense it. But what was also unusual was Loeffelholz still worked under his original contract when Chicago opened in 1996.

jeffLoeffelholz had what is known as a “run-of-the-play” contract with Chicago, which many actors/dancers sign when a show opens. Essentially, a run-of-the-play contract ensures the performer has a job as long as the show stays open. Therefore, Loeffelholz’s contract has been in effect for over 20 years, a very unusual case since it’s rare that a Broadway show — much less a revival — has  such a long run.

Therefore, in order for Loeffelholz’s contract to be broken – aside from Chicago closing – was for him to either quit or to be fired. Under Equity rules, an actor can only be fired for “just cause” and according to an Equity source, Loeffelholz’s file is empty with not one single complaint in over 20 years. If the producers wished to fire Loeffelholz, under the terms of his contract, that would require a buyout of “15 weeks at maximum salary.” That would result in a buyout to Loeffelholz of over $30,000.

Since Chicago was Loeffelholz’s dream job, it was doubtful that he would ever quit, despite having other opportunities falling by the wayside over the years due to his devotion to the Kander & Ebb revival.

Advertisements

25 thoughts on “Ain’t No Sunshine When He’s Gone: Did Bullying Extinguish One of Broadway’s Brightest Lights?

    1. I agree completely. Bullying by Walter Bobbie and Leslie Stiefleman should brand them publicly as such. No more “private meetings or auditions” should ever be allowed with either, alone or together. I also wonder if their actions were encouraged by the producers.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Let’s not forget the PSM in all of this. A director is treating an actor this way and the PSM doesn’t intervene, that’s wrong.

    Like

      1. As an understudy in a different show directed by Bobbie I too experienced some humiliation during a rehearsal.

        Like

  2. It sounds like he had a cushy job that he rarely had to work at, but still got paid for.

    I think this was the mistake of the original “run of show” contract, as it shouldn’t have been offered; and I think the actions from the rehearsal are from him for being complacent with the original direction.

    If you can’t get fired, then why bother to perform at 100%? He hadn’t done the role in 4 months.

    I say this as a democrat and a union member in the performing arts.

    If you get fired, you find another job… Don’t kill yourself and ruin the life of your husband, family and friends…

    That being said; I hope Jeff found his peace. Suicide is so tragic, and I hope his death is not in vain.

    Like

    1. What you see as a “cushy” job is actually a difficult one. A Standby works 8 shows a week like every other actor, but is a non-performing company member. They have to be ready to go on in a moments notice. Also, there is a financial bump when they perform. So, producers generally don’t want put them on for vacations, only sick, personal days or an emergency. There is not a “mistake” by giving anyone a run-of-the-show contract. It is the standard contact when you start a Broadway show. Anyone can be fired from their job with “just cause” which is usually multiple notes and followup – a paper trail. The other way is to “buy out” the contract instead of harassing. While I agree no one should kill themselves over a job, not everyone has that kind of clarity if they are distressed. Sympathy and compassion are needed now.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Well now… I would have so much to say here if it weren’t for the fact that someone in our community FELT BULLIED enough to take his own life. Shame on you!!!! Who are you to be so judgmental! No one in our industry or anywhere else for that matter should go to work EVERYDAY and EVER feel bullied. Your such a coward that you are hiding behind a pseudonym! Yeah, your Roxie Hart and I’m Norma Desmond! Old, wiser and crazier than YOU! Step into the spot light sister and stand up for your hateful comments. Looks like the anti-bullying message never got to you.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Blaming the victim is it’s own sickness.

      Be a part of the solution.

      I truly hope that you have reconsidered your response and recognize that this attitude and perspective are part of the problem. Assuming you know what you would do in another person’s circumstance shows a lot of bravado.

      Perhaps take a step back and a few deep breaths and be gently reminded what my Grandmother used to tell me after I showed the kind of superiority you just did, “But by the grace of god, there go I.”

      Like

    4. A contract is a contract. I wish an attorney had gotten involved sooner- this sounds like a classic example of constructive discharge.

      Like

    5. He had a unique talent particularly suited to this role and he was committed to the job for 22 years. The very least he was owed was a buyout of his contract.

      Like

  3. Roxie, not everyone approaches their job by not doing 100%. I can assure you that this was not Loeffelholz’s work ethic. The type of contract the production gives its performers is a moot point; that’s what was offered and that’s what he had been working under. I’m sure a lot of people reading this post wish Loeffelholz had taken your advice.

    Like

  4. Hi! I’ve been posting a lot on Facebook and Twitter about this and asking playbill why they haven’t posted about Jeff. And then I saw the “part 2” had been taken down. I’d love to know why. I want to repost the body of the post on my Facebook/Twitter but am wondering if there are legal implications? I also want to respect your privacy if that’s why the post was taken down. Any information would be much appreciated. There is an entire community behind you. I would even be willing to set up a go fund me to help with any costs. I’m haunted by this and want to help in any way I can. Thinking of Jeff and his family and sending lots of love and light.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am so sorry for your loss, and I apologize if this appears nitpicky, but do you mind getting rid of the specific details of Mr, Loeffelholz’s death? As this post rightfully gets more attention, the details are potentially harmful to vulnerable individuals.

    Sending you peace and strength and answers.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s