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.]