Obs actress shares her story

Michele Maxwell

After 46 years in the entertainment industry, Observatory actress, singer and pianist Michele Maxwell still finds joy in performing.

She will be sharing her talents as well as some anecdotes about her illustrious career in Michelle Maxwell in Concert, which is being presented by another music legend, Milnerton resident Alvon Collison, on Sunday September 2.

Ms Maxwell’s South African movies include Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema in 2008 and Hoodlum and Son, which was a British production shot in South Africa in 2003. Most audiences will be familiar with her work in South African television dramas such as Generations and Scandal!

And those who can remember a little further back will recognise her as Bernice Fisher, the long suffering wife in the comedy series, Fishy Feshuns, acting opposite one of South Africa’s top comedic actors, Russel Savadier who took on the leading role of Harold Fisher, the factory owner.

But it has been through her work in the theatre that Ms Maxwell has mastered her trade as an artist since she first made her first theatrical debut in the Space Theatre in Johannesburg in 1973. She was also one of the first entertainers to open the Baxter Theatre in 1977.

For Ms Maxwell, being an entertainer was part of her family’s legacy as her mother, Lynette Rennie was an actress and pianist made famous in the early 70s while her dad Ronnie Maxwell played a big role in the advertising industry in South Africa. Her younger brother Michael was an actor in the theatre in the 80s and currently works in production and lighting design.

Ms Maxwell said working in the theatre had favourable working conditions though she felt in the earlier days that the male performers were getting paid more than the women.

Ms Maxwell even performed overseas from the early 80s when she went to the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Finland where she was a piano bar singer. She worked hard to master her craft, taking theatre courses at the Actors Institute of London in the early 80s.

When she returned from overseas in the late 80s, she entertained South African audiences in shows like The Death of a Salesman and Steel Magnolias where her acting range went from serious to comedic. Ms Maxwell has been nominated for many acting awards and won the Three Leaf award on two occasions as a supporting actress in The Cherry Orchard and America Hurrah. This award honours theatre performers on the Cape Town theatre scene. In the modern era of theatre she continues to be busy, appearing in Cabaret (2015) and Funny Girl (2017) at The Fugard Theatre. A month ago she appeared in the Significant Other, also at the Fugard Theatre. Ms Maxwell said the hardest part of her job is when a show comes to an end because by then all the people involved have become used to each other.

She praises the next generation of artists. “We have an incredible pool of talent, in terms of South African musicals, especially with places like the Waterfront Theatre School, we have grown an incredible culture of talent that can sing, act and dance.”

Ms Maxwell said the biggest challenge facing the industry is that it does not pay as much as the overseas productions. She said actors and actresses will most likely get a more competitive salary in television and film.

When Ms Maxwell is not performing, she enjoys giving private basic piano, singing and accent lessons from her home.

She has other projects coming up in theatre and television that she was not ready to disclose.

The concert on Sunday will also feature tenor Fuad Sawyer who will be doing a tribute to Mario Lanza and Mark-Anthony Chadwick, an international tenor sax player.

Mr Collison said Ms Maxwell effortlessly threads her life experiences through her songs and mesmerises, as she draws you into her special world. “Her music will delight and her stories will entertain,” said Mr Collison.

“I will chat a little bit about my travels overseas as I was out of the country in the 80s where I missed a big part of South Africa’s social history,” said Ms Maxwell.

“I will sing one or two of my compositions, I will share a touch of comedy and will cross jazz, blues and musical theatre,” she said.

Michelle Maxwell in Concert takes place on Sunday September 2, at the Dutch Reformed Church Hall in Park Road, Milnerton, at 3pm. Tickets cost R100 and bookings can be made by calling 021 551 0969.