How Jan Maxwell Thought Her Career Was Over—and Then Got Cast in Parade | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky How Jan Maxwell Thought Her Career Was Over—and Then Got Cast in Parade This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth remembers the late Jan Maxwell’s stories of Follies, Annie, Parade, and more.
Jan Maxwell in Follies.
Jan Maxwell in Follies Joan Marcus

On the road again! Thus begins my two weeks of a-travlin’. I’m in L.A. this Wednesday for two sold-out shows with Patti LuPone. By the way, we are having guest stars, but I’m keeping it a secret until after the show! I’m #annoying. Thursday morning I fly to Florida and see Disaster!, which is playing at the Broward Center with the Slow Burn Theatre Company. I really don’t like to read reviews, but Adam Pascal texted me the review from this production and it was so great! I was so appreciative of how the reviewer called out the script! “The inventiveness of how they used “Hooked On A Feeling” is equaled only by the bizarre hilarity of how they employ (we won’t spoil it here) ‘Three Times A Lady’ in a way Lionel Richie never envisioned.” #StillGotIt

I’m so excited to see the production on Thursday and then do a talkback right after. The next night, Friday the 16, I’ll be doing a show with the brilliant Rachel Bay Jones, who just won the Tony Award for Dear Evan Hansen. And, by the way, she’s from Florida! Here’s one of my fave performances.

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After that I go to Scottsdale with Megan Hilty… and then I introduce the upcoming season at the Smith Center. I get home just in time for my birthday! You can find the details to all my shows here.

When James and I were in San Francisco, we got an amazing invite: Sheryl Sandberg, who’s a bigwig at Facebook, invited us to Menlo Park for a tour! I always thought Facebook was a place that only existed in the ether, like “the cloud,” but it’s a full complex. What’s amazing is that it’s basically one big office. It takes up an entire giant floor, with thousands of people, and everyone’s desk is out in the open. Frank Gehry designed it and what’s really cool is—despire having thousands of people in the same office—it’s not noisy. Gehry made the acoustics able to absorb sound so you can everyone near you and not 3,000 people. WHY can’t they have that at 90 percent of the restaurants I go to where I’m also the old, crotchety person asking the host to “turn down that music” because I cannot hear anyone at my own table?

James and I also got to try a virtual reality experience, which I aborted after just a few minutes due to my proclivities to claustrophobia (tight glasses that go around your whole head) and motion sickness. (I did the “fun” experience of walking around the roof of a virtual skyscraper and looking down thousands of feet. #NeverAgain).

The place was super cool and after we visited, all I wanted to do was apply for a job. They have non-stop food (with chefs), a gym, massages, and open kitchen areas with the kind of snacks I could eat as full meals; fancy coffee machines, cereal, health this and health that, ingredients for s’mores…it was relentless. They told me to take as many pictures as I wanted and I immediately had an idea for a fun Instagram post: I took a picture of some random equations on the wall and I was going to joke about how I could never work there because I got a 50 for two quarters in ninth grade algebra. Suddenly, I was told not to post the photo. Turns out, I could take a picture of anything…except the math equations on the wall. Yes, I myself didn’t understand those equations, but there are people out there who do understand. I basically could have been exposing some amazing new Facebook idea to the founders of MySpace or Netscape for an amazing comeback. I’m glad Robert Oppehnheimer didn’t give me a tour of the Manhattan Projects office or else Germany might have won the war.

I want to end this column by writing about Jan Maxwell who passed away. I was just thinking about her and one day later hear the news. She was a great, down-to-earth, super-funny lady with crazy amounts of talent. This is a section from Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume 3 where I wrote all about her. So aware of her own annoyingness in a hilarious loving way!

Jan Maxwell and Seth Rudetsky
Jan Maxwell and Seth Rudetsky

I had Jan Maxwell on my Chatterbox this week and she was such a great guest. First, I asked her about Follies, and she told me that they started rehearsals with a read/sing-through for Sondheim himself. I had a panic attack hearing that, but she remembers being relatively calm. I asked her why she didn't have (what we called in the ’70s) a "nervous breakdown," and she said it's because she lives by the theory, "Respect everyone. Revere no one." Uh-oh…I've made a career out of worshiping people. Now what?

Back to Jan. I told her that everyone was shocked she was such a musical theatre sasstress in Follies. She said that she always had done musicals, especially in summer stock. She started rattling off shows (she played Evita in Evita!) and then she mentioned Anything Goes. "Who did you play?" I asked. She couldn't remember the name and said, "You know…the person!" We figured out she played Reno Sweeney, and the horrifying part is they told her at the last minute that they wanted her to tap in the big "Anything Goes" number. The problem was, they told her a half hour before the show, and she didn't know the dance or even how to tap! She was panicked in the rehearsal room at 7:30, trying to figure out what to do, when her best friend walked in. He advised her to "just smile a lot." Cut to, after the performance, she saw her boyfriend. Jan asked him what the dance looked like during the title song, and he replied, "I don't know… but I've never seen you happier!" It worked?

Her first Broadway musical was as an understudy in City of Angels, which she said was a terrifying experience. There was a moving treadmill that went across the stage that she had to walk backwards (!) on, but she never had a chance to practice on it during rehearsal because it would have been too expensive to hire a crew to operate. It was actually dangerous, and she remembers that before each entrance, a crew member would tell her what to do for her safety, and it was terrifying instructions like, "Make sure you move to the side or else you'll have something enormous slam into your head" or "Keep your arms next to you the whole time or else you'll be killed." Literally. Where was the fun part? I guess not being killed.

Jan Maxwell and cast Joan Marcus

Speaking of which, she's been injured off and onstage during Follies—including being hit by a van (!)—but has refused to stop performing even though a doctor told her to take weeks off. Jan said she did the ol' chestnut of going from doctor to doctor until she found one who said she could continue doing the show. Yay quacks!

Her first big musical job was touring in Annie as the Lily St. Regis understudy. She flew down to Atlanta and, because she didn't know anyone, she started exploring different neighborhoods by herself. One afternoon, a police car screeched up next to her, and the policeman asked where she was from. She muttered, "New York…" Then he asked where she was staying, and she said, "Uh…the hotel?" He told her to get in the backseat of the police car because he thought she was a prostitute! She stammered that she was in town with the tour of Annie. The policeman said, "Oh, I'm so embarrassed…I just bought a ticket to see it tonight!" Turns out, though, Jan was still in rehearsal and therefore wasn't in the show yet, so she told us that he probably got to the theatre, looked at the Playbill and yelled, "That whore!"

In terms of bad auditions, she talked about going in for Parade and feeling like her career was over because she had just given birth a few weeks earlier and she was exhausted. Plus, she happened to have made good money that year doing voiceovers (she said it was the only time she ever made good money), and she found out she owed $10,000 in taxes! She was devastated and decided to not get dressed up because she somehow thought it was for a student director of Hal Prince, but when she walked in she saw it was for the Hal Prince and mega-producer Garth Drabinsky. She then decided her career really was over. She turned her devastation into being cranky, and basically couldn't stop herself. Whatever they asked her, she had a whiny, annoyed line reading that, when she re-created it, was hilarious. The dialogue was:

HAL: Have you seen the sides?
JAN: Have I seen the sides? Of course, I've seen the sides!
HAL: Do you have questions?
JAN: Yes!!! What's this play about????
HAL: You play the mother of a little girl who was murdered in the South-
JAN: She's southern??!?!?
HAL: Yes…..
JAN: (Overwrought) Do you want an accent!?!?!
HAL: Uh…sure.
JAN: When did it happen!?!?!?
HAL: In the ’20s.
JAN: (Exasperated) Not the time period! When I read this scene, how much time has passed since the murder?!?!?
HAL: Uh...a few weeks.

Jan did the scene, and then Hal told her the show was going to go to Philadelphia. She replied, with great consternation, "Philadelphia?!?! For how long?" He told her five days. She replied, completely overwhelmed and annoyed, "Five days!?!?" I'm obsessed with that part, because literally however many days he said would have irritated her. Well, for some reason, they offered her the role and later on Hal's assistant told Jan that Hal had written on her audition sheet, "Awesome!" Then "Hostile?" Hilariously accurate.

Farewell, Jan.

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