Walter Bobbie and Leslie Stifelman, the director and musical director of Broadway’s Chicago, are under fire following the June 29 suicide of Jeff Loeffelholz, a 22-year veteran of the show, who said in notes following a brutal rehearsal on June 22 that Bobbie and Stifelman had bullied and humiliated him in front of the rest of the cast in order to compel him to leave the show.
Friends of Loeffelholz, who was a longtime standby for the role of Mary Sunshine, have launched a “Justice for Jeffrey” campaign.
They write: “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.”
They add: “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.”
The rehearsal endured by Loeffelholz, the campaign contends, was an attempt “to coerce him to quit on his own, and avoid the Producers/NAMCO’s contractual obligation to ‘buy out’ his contract.”
The Justice for Jeffrey blog recently detailed events at the rehearsal, which are “taken directly from what Loeffelholz wrote in his notes immediately after the rehearsal,” according to the campaign:
According to Loeffelholz’s own handwritten notes after the rehearsal, he went upstairs where he greeted the dance captain with a hug and the usual pleasantries and when asked how he was, he replied he was great but he was “ready to rehearse.”
At that point Hyslop said he received a text from Bobbie saying he hadn’t slept all night and was running late. By now it was 1:15 and much of the cast had started to arrive. Bobbie finally arrived at 1:20 and after small talk with Stifelman and Hyslop he said to Loeffelholz, “I want to hear you sing,” adding that Loeffelholz was “never on” and he wanted to know why. Loeffelholz hadn’t performed the role since the last week of February.
Loeffelholz sang Mary Sunshine’s signature song, “A Little Bit of Good.” Silence from Bobbie until he said, “Again.” Loeffelholz sang it again. Bobbie then told Loeffelholz he should quit “overperforming it and being draggy” (i.e., like a drag queen), because “it is not a drag role. You need to be believable,” according to Loeffelholz’s notes.
Loeffelholz sang it again at which time Bobbie told him he couldn’t hear his lower register and he asked Loeffelholz for “more volume! I don’t believe what you’re telling me!”
Bobbie then said he was very disappointed and upset and stormed into the theater’s lobby at which point Stifelman took over the rehearsal instructing Loeffelholz to start in the middle of the song, adding “You always do it wrong.”
Loeffelholz sang it again. Bobbie entered the theater again and Stifelman repeated to him that Loeffelholz always does this part of the song incorrectly and could they do it again, according to Loeffelholz’s notes.
Loeffelholz sang it again after which Stifelman told him he was singing the wrong notes and that it was impossible for her to follow him when he performs the role.
Loeffelholz sang “A Little Bit of Good” for the sixth time. Stifelman alleged that Loeffelholz was “oversinging it and talking too much,” according to Loeffelholz’s own handwritten notes. Stifelman had Loeffelholz sing the middle part and told him he was singing the wrong lyrics. Loeffelholz’s notes simply state, “I was not.”
Stifelman then asked Bobbie if he wanted Loeffelholz to sing it again. Bobbie said no, adding, “We’ve wasted enough time.” Bobbie then said to bring in the rest of the cast and Loeffelholz approached him. “I walked up to Walter and he just stared at me,” his notes read. “I stared back and wanted him to say something.”
“I appreciate your loyalty,” Bobbie finally said to Loeffelholz, according to his notes. “But I am an actor too, and you have to respect the production.”
Full post here.
Producers Fran and Barry Weissler held an emergency cast meeting on Friday night, according to the New York Post, to address the outrage following Loeffelholz’s suicide.
The Weisslers have hired an attorney to investigate the alleged bullying incident.