Winner for Outstanding Actress in a Play, 2010
Maxwell made her Broadway debut in 1989, as an understudy in the musical City of Angels. She received her first Tony nomination in 2005 for the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Her other nominations were for Coram Boy in 2007, Lend Me a Tenor and The Royal Family both in 2010, and Follies in 2012. Her nominations in two separate categories in 2010, made her only the fourth actress to achieve two nominations in a single year. Her 2012 nomination for "Follies" made her only the second actress to receive a Tony nomination in all four acting categories. Her other Broadway credits include, Dancing at Lughnasa (1992), A Doll's House (1997), The Sound of Music (1998) and The Dinner Party (2001).
On screen, she has appeared in the soap operas All My Children (2007) and One Life to Live (2009) and had a recurring role in the drama series Gossip Girl (2009-2011). From 1994-2003, she appeared in four episodes of the NBC drama Law & Order, each time as a different character.
She is the daughter of former First District Judge Ralph B. Maxwell (who served in North Dakota from 1967–1978) and Elizabeth Maxwell, a lawyer for the EPA. She attended West Fargo High School, West Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead State University. She has a son, Will Maxwell-Lunney (born 1995).
She appeared in Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa in 1992, which won the Tony Award for Best Play. She replaced original cast member Brid Brennan in the role of Agnes. In 1997, she appeared in A Doll's House opposite Janet McTeer. In 1998, she played Elsa Schraeder in the first Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. She then starred oppsite John Ritter and Henry Winkler in Neil Simon's The Dinner Party in 2000 and in Sixteen Wounded in 2004 with Judd Hirsch and Martha Plimpton. On television during this time, between 1994 and 2003, she made four guest appearances in the long-running NBC crime drama Law & Order, each time as a different character
In 2005, she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, for the stage production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the role of Baroness Bomburst. She won the Drama Desk Award for this role. In 2006, she starred in Roundabout Theatre Company's Off-Broadway revival of Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane for which she received a Drama Desk nomination for Best Actress. Also in 2006, she reunited with her Sound of Music co-star Richard Chamberlain in Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 2007, she starred in the Broadway production of Coram Boy, for which she received her second Tony Award nomination, for Best Featured Actress in a Play.
Her off-Broadway and regional credits include performances in The Seagull at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1985, in House & Garden at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2002, in A Bad Friend at the Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center in 2003; and at Carnegie Hall in the Stephen Sondheim concert, Opening Doors in 2004.
In 2008 she appeared Off-Broadway with the Potomac Theatre Project/NYC in Howard Barker's Scenes from an Execution and was nominated for a Drama Desk and NYITT award. In 2008, Maxwell appeared on Broadway in the Manhattan Theater Club production of To Be or Not to Be in the role of Maria Tura at the Friedman Theatre.
She appeared as Julie Cavendish in the Broadway revival of The Royal Family at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in late 2009. For this role she won the 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play. Maxwell starred as Maria in the Broadway revival of Lend Me a Tenor, which began performances at the Music Box Theatre on March 11, 2010. She won the Outer Critics Circle Award as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play for this role. Maxwell received two 2010 Tony Award nominations: one for her leading role in The Royal Family in 2009 and another for her featured role in Lend Me a Tenor in 2010. She is only the fourth actress to receive double nominations in a single year.
Maxwell played the role of Phyllis Rogers Stone in the Kennedy Center production of the Stephen Sondheim – James Goldman musical Follies, running from May 7, 2011 through June 19, 2011 at the Eisenhower Theater in Washington, DC. Her co-stars were Bernadette Peters, Elaine Paige, Ron Raines and Danny Burstein. She reprised her role in the Broadway limited engagement at the Marquis Theatre, which ran from August 7, 2011 (previews) through January 22, 2012. On October 29, after the Saturday matinee, Maxwell was hit by a minivan, suffering injuries to her arm and leg, fracturing her fibula. She missed the following two shows, but was back on Tuesday. Maxwell received Helen Hayes, Fred Astaire, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for this role. The Tony nomination (her fifth) made her only the second actress to receive nominations in all four acting categories, the first was Angela Lansbury. In 2014, Audra McDonald became the third actress to achieve this. Maxwell reprised her role in this production's transfer to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, California from May 3, 2012 through June 9, 2012.
She appeared in the PTP/NYC (The Potomac Theatre Project) Off-Broadway production of the Howard Barker play Victory: Choices in Reaction, in a limited engagement in July 2011. In 2013, Maxwell played the role of Skinner in Howard Barker's The Castle, A Triumph with PTP/NYC at the Atlantic Theatre, Stage 2.
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- Internet Broadway database listing, Jan Maxwell
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- Career listing at American Theatre Wing