Remembering Broadway actor Jeff Loeffelholz: January 26, 1961 – June 29, 2018
Jeff Loeffelholz was a proud veteran cast member of the Tony-winning Broadway revival of Chicago. He made his Broadway debut with the production in 1996 when director Walter Bobbie, choreographer Ann Reinking, writers John Kander and Fred Ebb, along with the show’s producers, Barry and Fran Weissler, cast him as the standby for the role of tabloid journalist Mary Sunshine. It was his dream role. He opened the production as part of the original cast alongside Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, James Naughton, and Marcia Lewis on November 14, 1996 at the Richard Rodgers Theater.
The production broke theatrical records to become the longest running revival in Broadway history. Jeff committed himself to the production and the role, continuing his duties as standby for Mary Sunshine for the past 21 years. He was the last remaining member of the original 1996 opening night cast who was still part of the long-running hit.
Jeff’s talents were unique, rare, and a valuable asset to Chicago. As written and conceived by Bob Fosse in the original production, Mary Sunshine is played by a male actor dressed as a woman. Mary Sunshine isn’t a drag role, it’s a carefully crafted illusion. Key to the illusion and the most challenging requirement of the role is that the actor must sing in a high soprano and convincingly sound like a woman during Mary Sunshine’s number “A Little Bit of Good,” a song that showcases extreme range and incorporates vocal flourishes.
The vocal demands make this role extremely challenging to cast. Few male performers possess this unique ability, and only a small number have actually dedicated their training to developing their upper register, while also mastering the operatic technique and control required to sing the role. It’s taxing on the performer vocally and requires careful pre-show warm ups and constant maintenance.
Jeff became part of Chicago‘s history opening the show at the Richard Rogers Theater, transferring with the revival to the Shubert Theater in 1997, and again in 2003, when it moved to its current home, The Ambassador Theater.
For over two decades Jeff dedicated himself to his role as standby, calling in eight times a week to check if he was needed, and then remaining free throughout the duration of the performance as stipulated in his production contract. From the first preview in October 1996 up to the week of June 27, 2018, Jeff fulfilled his duties to the production, the cast,the crew, the creators, and the producers. For over 8,900 performances he was ready to go on at a moment’s notice, rush to the theater, and perform the role, sometimes midshow. Jeff was so dedicated to the show, that during the run he and his longtime partner, Peter De La Cruz, moved to be closer to the Ambassador. Jeff’s knowledge was integral to Chicago to the point that recently he was phoned and asked about the location of a prop for another actor’s rehearsal.
As with any Broadway show, actors sign a Production contract, which guarantees that they have a job as long as the show is open. Jeff was on a standard Principal contract along with the other leading actors in the show. The other contract would be a Chorus contract for the members of the ensemble.
There are three ways in which this contract can be terminated:
- The actor can give two or four week’s notice, depending on their rider, and therefore would not receive unemployment or any severance pay.
- The contract can also be terminated with “just cause,” which requires documented evidence that the actor is not performing the role as required. This is usually documented through written warnings alleging failures and may be in the form of notes. All written warnings are required to be reported to Actors Equity and the producer with a copy going to the actor.
- The last option for a producer to terminate the contract is to buy out the actor’s contract as required by the union. This gives severance pay to any actor on a Production contract, which is defined as one week’s pay for every five weeks of employment with a cap at 15 weeks.
Broadway producers have used the buy out clause in various productions such as Annie, Les Miserables, and Wicked. In these cases, the orphans grew too tall or actors aged out of their parts as students.
The role of Mary Sunshine is described in Chicago casting notices as: “Any age, any ethnicity and requires a male soprano or countertenor who can sing legitimately up to a high B flat; acts like a good-natured talk show hostess, but is actually a high-powered gossip columnist; actor must be a good comedian and a great legit singer.”
Chicago’s producers presented Jeff with the opportunity to take over the role full-time on several occasions during the run. Such a move would terminate his original production contract, and require him to sign a new contract with new terms set forth by the show’s producers. Jeff declined the offer, and chose to remain on his original contract.
Jeff Loeffelholz succeeded in taking his own life on Friday, June, 29th, 2018 at 2:19 PM after enduring an unusually brutal rehearsal run by music director Leslie Stifelman, and Walter Bobbie, Chicago’s original director on June 22 at the Ambassador Theater.
Jeff believed that Stifelman and Bobbie’s behavior during the rehearsal was an attempt to coerce him to quit on his own, and avoid the Producers/NAMCO’s contractual obligation to “buy out” his contract.
In the family’s letter to the producers it stated that their “intention is to end the institutional intimidation, harassment and bullying at the Ambassador Theater by the immediate removal of Leslie Stifelman and discontinuing Walter Bobbie’s access to the theater and cast.” Furthermore, their hope is there will be an examination of these reported practices in the theater.
Jeff is survived in New York City by his partner, Peter De La Cruz. Jeff hailed from Norman, Oklahoma, where his surviving family members reside. He graduated with a BFA from The University of Oklahoma.
In lieu of flowers Jeff’s family requests that donations be made to BroadwayCares/Equity Fights AIDS in his name. A Go Fund Me campaign has been established to cover the cost for Jeff’s memorial andto support his partner Peter De La Cruz during this difficult time.
Plans for a memorial will be forthcoming.
*This obituary was provided by the friends and family of the deceased and is being shared with all media outlets.