Ain’t No Sunshine When He’s Gone, Part 3: From Oklahoma to the Great White Way

There is a difference between a standby and an understudy for a Broadway show. An understudy will have a smaller role in a production and be able to step in to a larger role at a moment’s notice. A standby is not a regular part of the cast but is essentially required to “stand by” in case the regular actor or the understudy cannot go on.

Over the years, Loeffelholz had been offered the role of Mary Sunshine but he did not want to break his lucrative run-of-the-show contract. Had he accepted the role, he would actually have gone to a lower salary and a term contract which could be ended after merely six months, if the producers chose to do so.

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Loeffelholz (left) and his Dangerous Duets partner Michael Tidd (right) flank Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber after a performance.

As a male soprano, Loeffelholz was a rare songbird indeed. This gift served him well for a number of years after moving to New York from Oklahoma as he was a regular performer on the cabaret circuit. Most notably, he was one half of the cabaret duo Dangerous Duets with tenor Michael Tidd. This unique twist on Broadway garnered the show a MAC Award in 1996 and allowed the team to perform for British royalty, open for Betty Buckley at the Bottom Line, as well as La Mama E.T.C., The Triad, and even the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The show opened with a “Death Medley” of dying scenes from West Side Story, Les Miserables, and The Man of La Mancha, as well as medleys of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rogers and Hammerstein, Barbara Cook, and much more, but the Dangerous Duets version of a medley from the notorious Broadway flop Carrie: The Musical had its own cult following through the years.

However, it wasn’t until John Kander and Fred Ebb, the composer and lyricist of Chicago, first spotted Loeffelholz perform the role of Mary Sunshine in a benefit production of their music that his star suddenly rose. While the role had already been cast with David Sabella for the new revival, Kander and Ebb wanted Loeffelholz to be on standby. They got their wish and the Oklahoma theater kid’s wildest dreams were suddenly a Broadway reality.

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Loeffelholz with Joel Grey, who originated the role of Amos in the 1996 Broadway revival of Chicago.

A trained opera performer, Sabella found himself on vocal rest during a few of the revival’s initial previews clearing the way for Loeffelholz’s moment in the spotlight. With rosy apple cheeks and a boyish face, Loeffelholz could easily “pass” for female in this small yet pivotal role in the show. And when the wig came off, the gasps and peals of laughter followed.

Kander and Ebb even specifically tailored a role in another musical to suit Loeffelholz’s unique and stunning soprano register. When the musical The Visit was going through the process of being workshopped, Loeffelholz was a part of the process. As the score was being written, Kander insisted that the notes Loeffelholz sang in the role of Eunich must be the notes for that character.

Despite Loeffelholz’s diligence in working with the composer, lyricist, and, at that time, The Visit’s star, Angela Lansbury, he was not allowed to perform the role due to his contract with Chicago. When Kander and Ebb asked the producers if Loeffelholz could be temporarily released from his contract to perform in their new musical, they obliged. However, when Loeffelholz was preparing to sign on the dotted line, he was then told he would have to break his run-of-the-show contract and switch to a term contract. He declined.

After an early run at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., with new star Chita Rivera, The Visit finally made it to Broadway in 2015 and shuttered after only 93 performances. Loeffelholz proved to be as shrewd a businessman as he was a showstopping performer.

He chose to stay with Chicago, his dream job …

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Stay tuned to this blog for future updates.]

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One thought on “Ain’t No Sunshine When He’s Gone, Part 3: From Oklahoma to the Great White Way

  1. This absolutely breaks my heart. I was an aspiring actor in New York for several years. I saw Chicago at least 10 times. I still have all my programs, and remember seeing Jeff in a performance. It stood out to me, because I had seen the show several times, and it was exceptional the night he filled in. Noone goes into acting, unless they can’t imagine themselves be fulfilled doing anything else. Those who do, do it because they love it. I hate that they were allowed to take something he loved, and turn it into something he couldn’t bare. I hope Jeff really does get justice. Yall are in my prayers.

    Like

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