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‘Chicago’ producers investigate harassment claims after cast member’s death

The producers of “Chicago” are investigating reports of harassment targeted at a cast member who took his own life last month after being a part of the Broadway revival since its beginning.

The producers of "Chicago" are investigating reports of harassment. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

The producers of “Chicago” are investigating reports of harassment targeted at a cast member who took his own life last month after being a part of the Broadway revival since its beginning.

Friends of Jeff Loeffelholz, citing rehearsal notes they say Loeffelholz left behind, say the actor, who was the standby for Mary Sunshine, was verbally harassed by members of the creative team while being made to repeatedly rehearse a song at a rehearsal on June 22. Loeffelholz died June 29.

“The entire ‘Chicago’ family is devastated by the loss of our company member. We are working with Actors Equity to investigate the circumstances around this tragedy,” the producers of “Chicago,” Barry and Fran Weissler and Alecia Parker, said in a statement.

“Our thoughts are with the cast and all those affected by this tragic situation. Equity has and will continue to engage with the cast and monitor the situation, but due to a pending investigation by the employer, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time,” said Brandon Lorenz, a spokesperson for Equity.

Loeffelholz was the last remaining original cast member of the Chicago revival, beginning his role in October 1996, when the show began previews. According to Mark Newman, a friend of Loeffelholz and a magazine editor in Washington D.C., and others, Loeffelholz had a “run of the play” contract, meaning that he could remain with the show through its run unless there was cause to fire him.

Newman said a mutual friend gave him notes Loeffelholz had written about the June 22 rehearsal. According to those notes, which Newman posted to a site he created, “Justice for Jeffrey,” Loeffelholz was made to sing Sunshine’s song, “A Little Bit of Good,” six times, while being told he was singing it incorrectly and being questioned about the length of his contract.

“I wanted to get his story out there,” Newman said.

A source in the Ambassador Theatre who heard part of the rehearsal confirmed that Loeffelholz was made to sing the same song repeatedly and that members of the creative team were speaking and yelling at Loeffelholz in an assertive manner.

The rehearsal was led by director Walter Bobbie, according to the source and Loeffelholz’s reported notes.

Bobbie did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

The reported story surrounding the rehearsal has sparked a large social media response in which actors are speaking out against harassment they have faced.

Robert DuSold, an actor who played the Mary Sunshine standby on a national tour of “Chicago,” led the charge on Facebook, posting accounts of being verbally harassed by a conductor during a put-in rehearsal for the first national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera,” and being told he could not take time off for a family funeral during the run of “Jekyll & Hyde” on Broadway.

“We all wear our heart on our sleeve as actors and to be a good actor you stand in front of somebody naked and trust them, so you’re in a highly vulnerable position and there’s a lot of people who take advantage of that,” DuSold said.

A publicist representing “The Phantom of the Opera” said they had no comment on DuSold’s reported treatment.

Several actors have posted a photo of a sign with the Actors’ Equity rules on intimidation in which the producer and any of his or her employees are prohibited from “intentionally” intimidating, harassing or humiliating an actor “at any time.”

In addition to the power dynamic, DuSold said actors are often harmed by the industry mantra of “the show must go on,” which can send the message that an actor’s personal issues or health are not important. By telling his own stories and encouraging others, DuSold hopes to limit future harassment.

“It just can’t happen again,” DuSold said. “It has to be exposed, and people need to be held accountable.”