One “Humiliated” Roxie Hart Shares Her Chicago Experiences

Jill-Headshot-Small-square-300x300
Jill Nicklaus

 

Stage veteran Robert DuSold recently came forward and told his own tales of bullying and intimidation both on Broadway and on tour in a previous post, which has in turn inspired other actors from Chicago with their own tales of harassment at the Ambassador Theater.

These stories follow in the wake of the last rehearsal Jeff Loeffelholz had with Chicago director Walter Bobbie and musical director Leslie Stifelman on June 22. The vivacious actor left the theater shattered after that rehearsal, feeling that he had been “marked” and eventually succeeded in taking his own life a few days later.

One such performer who came forward to share her story is Jill Nicklaus, a former understudy for Roxie Hart as well as various other roles in the current Broadway revival of Chicago. “I too was viciously bullied and humiliated by Leslie Stifelman for years during my time at Chicago,” she said. Nicklaus has also appeared in Cats, Movin’ Out, Sweet Smell of Success, and more.

Rehearsals at Chicago got to be so bad for Nicklaus that she requested that there be a stage manager present at all of her “private” rehearsals. “Management told me that I had to learn to deal with it and I must get along with [Stifelman],” Nicklaus said. “When I would go on she would sabotage me.”

“I too was viciously bullied and humiliated by Leslie Stifelman for years during my time at Chicago.

As an example, Nicklaus described a moment in the show where there is an interaction between Roxie Hart and the conductor on stage (Stifelman). All the actresses who portray Roxie do it individually and add their own comical spin, according to Nicklaus. “[Stifelman] deliberately ignored me so the moment wouldn’t work,” she said, adding that after the show Stifelman barged into her dressing room and berated her in front of her guests.

On another occasion, Stifelman asked Nicklaus if she would sing the show in another key because it was too difficult for the band to change keys. “The musicians told me that was ridiculous,” Nicklaus said. “They play different keys for many stars and actresses that go on in the show on a daily basis.”

“In my opinion, [Stifelman] was trying to make my voice sound bad to illustrate to management that my singing wasn’t up to par,” Nicklaus alleged.

On the other hand, Nicklaus notes that assistant conductor Scott Cady was always pleasant, kind, and professional and was “always supportive and conducted the show with fervor and exuberance,” she said. “He and the band members were stellar! Stage managers were also kind and professional. Leslie was just toxic.” Nicklaus also pointed out that all of her interactions with Bobbie were positive.

“I was committed to letting this go and focusing on the next chapter of my life. However, Jeff’s passing brought it all back. I am deeply saddened by the loss of Jeff. He was extremely talented, kind, and a gentle, loving human being.” 

Ironically, Nicklaus was on one night when Chicago’s composer John Kander was in the audience and loved her voice, she said. “He thanked me for singing his music the way he wrote it and complimented me on the vulnerability and sexiness I brought to the role,” Nicklaus said. “I feel Leslie was trying to get me fired or have my understudy taken away.”

Nicklaus has now retired from theater and is teaching dance and choreography to children.

“I was committed to letting this go and focusing on the next chapter of my life,” she said. “However, Jeff’s passing brought it all back. I am deeply saddened by the loss of Jeff. He was extremely talented, kind, and a gentle, loving human being.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Justice for Jeff blog reached out to Leslie Stifelman for her response to these allegations. She has not responded at the time of publication.]

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20 thoughts on “One “Humiliated” Roxie Hart Shares Her Chicago Experiences

  1. These stories of bullying and harassment are sickening. I did not know Jeff, but I am hurting for him and angry as hell that this happened. No conductor or MD should EVER behave in this childish and unprofessional manner towards actors or musicians. I have heard too many horror stories now about this individual. She should never be allowed on the podium again.

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    1. Stifelman is currently listed on their website as a Falculty member in the School of Drama at the New School. This institution of learning must account for its working relationship with Stifelman and thusly the conduct and work ethic she brings to professional settings. Is Stifelman representative of artistic leadership at New School? They must reveal any past or current complaints of bullying or abuse of students or staff by her. If none, then declare it! Where is the leadership of the theatre community on this? The silence is an affront.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. New School, The School of Drama Program Administration

    Pippin Parker
    Dean
    PippinParker@newschool.edu

    Jennifer Holmes
    Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
    Jennifer.Holmes@newschool.edu
    x2622 Room 203A

    Glynis Rigsby
    BFA Program Director
    Rigsbyg@newschool.edu
    x2631 Arnhold Hall, 904

    Jessica Perlmeter Cochrane
    General Manager
    Cochraj@newschool.edu
    x2623 Room 203B

    Rachel Christiansen
    Program and Administration Manager
    Christir@newschool.edu
    x2625 Room 203

    Emerson Brathwaite
    Senior Office Assistant
    BrathwaE@newschool.edu
    x2621 Room 203B

    Robert Hoyt
    Director of Professional Development and External Relations
    HoytR@newschool.edu
    x2630 Room 202

    Kesli Lavia
    Drama Advisor
    Laviak@newschool.edu

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    1. I reached out via email on 7 July to the Dean Parker for information on Leslie Stifelman’s current status with the New School and also if there were any complaints, formal or not, against Stifelman by students. As of today – 1 week- and multiple reports of abusive behavior later- no response or public comment from them. As per their website, the latest advertised event with Stifelman was a perfermance of Cabaret on 23 June with students: Music Direction/ Leslie Stifelman and Choreography by /Melissa Rae Mahon.

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    2. I reached out via email on 7 July to the Dean Parker for information on Leslie Stifelman’s current status with the New School and also if there were any complaints, formal or not, against Stifelman by students. As of today – 1 week- and multiple reports of abusive behavior later- and no response or public comment from them. As per their website, the latest advertised event with Stifelman was a perfermance of Cabaret with students and Melissa

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      1. Update on Leslie Stifelman and The New School- after checking the school’s website tonight it appears they have taken down some if not all reference to her.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The silence from Actors’ Equity is deafening, and unfortunately says a lot about them. Someone else has filled Jeff’s spot in the show, that person is paying their dues to Equity, and Equity does not care.

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    1. There’s a shocker. Has Kate Shindle been dragged into this? She us a true advocate for members. In fact, she may be the ONLY hope any of us have of Union representation.

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  4. Leslie’s personality is a dead giveaway to her behind the scenes reign of terror. She is not the only one. There is another (current) Musical Director on a succesful Tony Award winning show who is power hungry, abusive and unfortunately when she has been “talked to” it goes in one ear and out the other. Company management lacks all foresight and the well-being of actors is always sacrificed. Equity, STEP IT UP and protect the actors!

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  5. The account of Ms. Nicklaus being told to sing in a different key is a perfect example of an abusive manager attempting to sabotage the performance a subordinate.

    Kudos to Ms. Nicklaus for her courage in reporting this unacceptable behavior. Workplaces should be safe places, both in the theatre and elsewhere.

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