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.
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.
Loeffelholz 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.