On Tuesday night August 7, Barry Weissler – one of the producers with his wife Fran – announced that they would be sponsoring a $25,000 scholarship to honor Jeff Loeffelholz. Such a scholarship was first suggested by this blog weeks ago. The scholarship would be to help out an aspiring theatre major at Loeffelholz’s alma mater, the University of Oklahoma.
Loeffelholz, one of the longest-running standbys in Broadway history, took his life June 29 in the aftermath of a humiliating rehearsal with Chicago’s musical director Leslie Stifelman and director Walter Bobbie. Loeffelholz’s own handwritten notes after his dressing down by the duo revealed how shattered he was, as were texts to his best friend saying that “Walter was brutal.”
The announcement was made from the orchestra section of the Ambassador Theater after the evening performance. Members of the cast and crew were present as were some of Loeffelholz’s closest friends and family, including his partner of 33 years, Peter De La Cruz. In fact, Loeffelholz’s loved ones filled two rows in the orchestra section.
On stage there was an arrangement of flowers with a poster-sized photo of Loeffelholz as Mary Sunshine. Weissler said that photo would be installed at the Ambassador Theater as a permanent tribute to “what Jeff meant to Chicago and to all of us.” This memorial in the theater, it should be noted, was also first suggested by this blog.
De La Cruz had personally asked the organizers of the tribute to make sure that Stifelman, Bobbie, and production stage manager David Hyslop – who was present at Loeffelholz’s final rehearsal – to not be in attendance. Not only were they nowhere in sight, Stifelman has been on an extended leave of absence.
“Thumbs Down” From Cast & Crew
Actually, that absence could be extended even longer; the cast and musicians were surveyed by the producers of the show about how they would feel about Stifelman coming back to conduct Chicago. They overwhelmingly gave her a “thumbs down,” stating that they would not be comfortable working with her. As stated on this blog previously, many actors and musicians have their own “Leslie story” about the difficulties of working with her.
In fact, Actors Equity has been in touch with NAMCO – the company owned by the Weisslers that manages the show — and made it crystal clear that the actors, musicians, and crew feel about Stifelman’s possible return, according to an Equity member with insider knowledge. “But it’s up to NAMCO to act,” they continued. “They claim they have no legal way to keep her from returning to work.”
The source added that NAMCO has only given “lip service” to counseling for members of the cast and crew. “No one has been there since the beginning,” they added.
A Darkened Marquee
There were also tributes by original cast members Bebe Neuwirth and David Sabella, who originated the role of Mary Sunshine and who credited Loeffelholz with being his “rock” when he went through some tough personal times, as well as being available so that Sabella could participate in a major opera performance.
Nobody else from cast or crew spoke or shared memories of Loeffelholz.
After the tributes, those in attendance were shepherded outside onto 49th Street where the lights of the Ambassador Theater marquee were dimmed for a minute.
While the marquee may have been dimmed briefly, one of Broadway’s brightest lights has been dimmed permanently due to the treatment received in that very theater. The scholarship is nice. The permanent memorial in the Ambassador Theater is nice. The dimming the lights was nice.
But for those left behind who are permanently changed by the absence of Jeff Loeffelholz in their lives, it is just not enough.
Coming Soon: A look at the memorial service for Loeffelholz at St. Malachy’s Church — adjacent to the Ambassador Theater — that took place on August 7.