Jan Maxwell, a beloved mainstay of New York City theater, died on Feb. 11 at the age of 61. Over the course of her illustrious career, in which she appeared in 13 Broadway and numerous Off-Broadway productions, Maxwell earned five Tony Award nominations for her work in both musicals and plays, comedies and dramas, displaying a near-unparalleled mastery of both genres.
Maxwell first appeared on the Great White Way in the original production of “City of Angels” as an understudy, swing, and replacement. Her first bid at the Tony Awards came over a decade later for her featured role in the musical “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in 2005, for which she won her first Drama Desk Award. She went on to earn Tony nominations for her performances in the play “Coram Boy” (2007) and in revivals of “Lend Me a Tenor” (2010) and “The Royal Family” (2010), taking home her second Drama Desk for the latter.
Her final performance on a Broadway stage in the 2011 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s famed musical “Follies” earned Maxwell critical and audience acclaim. She played former follies-girl Phyllis Rogers Stone, a role which garnered Alexis Smith a Tony Award in 1972, delivering a searing performance of the legendary number “Could I Leave You?” and an equally-rousing rendition of the showstopper “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.” In 2012, Maxwell earned a Tony nomination for the performance. Maxwell also reaped a Grammy Award nomination for the role as a principal soloist on the New Broadway Cast Recording, which she shared which co-stars Bernadette Peters, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines and Elaine Paige.
Although Maxwell never took home a Tony, she has cemented her legendary status at the awards ceremony with the two records she set as a nominee. In 2010, Maxwell became the fourth individual to earn two nominations in two different acting categories in the same year, a feat she accomplished for her roles in “The Royal Family” (Actress in a Play) and “Lend Me a Tenor” (Featured Actress in a Play).
Gold Derby’s founder Tom O’Neil interviewed her about this honor and the actress readily admitted, “It was great when I got such a response from the theatrical community.” Watch the full interview above. At that time, only Amanda Plummer, Dana Ivey, and Kate Burton had achieved the distinction. Four years after Maxwell, Mark Rylance became the first actor to enter this prestigious club.
Two years later, Maxwell achieved an equally if not more impressive honor, becoming only the fourth performer in Tony Awards history to earn a nomination in all four acting categories (Actress in a Musical for “Follies,” Featured Actress in a Musical for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” Actress in a Play for “The Royal Family,” and Featured Actress in a Play for “Coram Boy” and “Lend Me a Tenor”). Prior to Maxwell, only Angela Lansbury, Boyd Gaines, and Raúl Esparza had accomplished such a triumph, and only Audra McDonald has done so since.
On screen, Maxwell appeared on numerous notable television series, including “Law & Order,” “The Good Wife,” and, most recently, “Madam Secretary.” Only a few years ago, she starred on the short-lived political satire “BrainDead” opposite her “Lend Me a Tenor” co-star Tony Shalhoub.