Jan Maxwell, a Five-Time Tony Award Nominee, Dies at 61

Obituaries   Jan Maxwell, a Five-Time Tony Award Nominee, Dies at 61
Maxwell was the beloved star of such Broadway productions as 2011’s Follies, The Royal Family, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Jan Maxwell
Jan Maxwell Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Jan Maxwell, a five-time Tony-nominated actor whose performances spanned stage and screen, comedy and drama, died February 11 following a longtime battle with cancer. Her death was confirmed to Playbill by her son, William Maxwell-Lunney. She was 61.

Jan Maxwell in Follies.
Jan Maxwell in Follies Joan Marcus

Ms. Maxwell made her Broadway debut as a replacement swing in 1989’s City of Angels, understudying and eventually assuming the dual roles of Alaura and Carla. She would go on to celebrate a 25-year career on the Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional stage.

Her myriad accolades include five Tony nominations, with two in the same season: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2005), Coram Boy (2007), Lend Me a Tenor (2010), The Royal Family (2010), and Follies (2012). With the most recent, Ms. Maxwell became the fourth performer in Tony Awards history to be nominated in all four possible acting categories. She won Drama Desks for both Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Royal Family.

Two days after her Follies Tony nomination was announced, she reprised her performance as Phyllis Rogers Stone in Los Angeles when the production played Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre.

Born November 20, 1956, in North Dakota to Ralph and Elizabeth Maxwell (a former district judge and lawyer, respectively), Ms. Maxwell credited a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire she attended at Minnesota’s Guthrie Theater when she was 16 as a career-defining experience.

While studying at Moorhead State University, she would perform in summer stock with the school’s Straw Hat Players. Her passion for performing drew her to frequent trips to New York under various pretenses. “One was pretending I was religious and joining the United Campus Ministry,” she told Playbill in a 2008 interview. “They were coming here for $50. I think I left them in a church in Brooklyn.” Just shy of graduating, Ms. Maxwell moved to New York full-time to pursue acting.

Her career on Broadway took off in her early 40s, when she starred as Kristine in the 1997 revival of A Doll’s House opposite Janet McTeer and Owen Teale. The 1998 revival of The Sound of Music (in which she played the baroness Elsa Schraeder), The Dinner Party, and Sixteen Wounded followed before Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Ms. Maxwell’s additional credits include To Be Or Not to Be on Broadway, regional productions of The Seagull and The King and I, and Off-Broadway’s House and Garden, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Victory: Choices in Reaction, Wings, The City of Conversation, and, in 2015, Scenes From an Execution. During the last, a Potomac Theatre Project production, she announced that she intended to retire from theatre.

“The kinds of roles I was being offered were just…I’d been the and done that, and I just didn’t want to do that anymore,” Ms. Maxwell told Time Out New York. “I think theater saves people’s lives and it’s wonderful. This is just a personal choice for me.”

She went on to appear on the small screen in the CBS comedy BrainDead, as well as episodes of Gotham and Madam Secretary. Her additional film and TV credits include I Am Michael, Billy & Billie, The Divide, and Law & Order, in which she played four different characters over nine years ("If you see me, you can turn it off... I did it," she once told Playbill).

Ms. Maxwell is survived by her husband, actor Robert Emmet Lunney, and their aforementioned son William.

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