Complexity: A One Woman Show opens with as time-tested and predictable a setup as a musical can muster: a naively bright-eyed woman moving into her first New York apartment. It’s a narrative we’ve seen time and again, from Sex and the City to Avenue Q, and it takes a particularly crafty, nuanced humorist to rework this structure into something new. Complexity skirts with originality and sophisticated humor, but doesn’t quite manage to break free from the storytelling conventions that its genre dictates.
Creator and Music Director Kylie Westerbeck stars as the titular “one woman” Beth, who is as stereotypically millennial as a character can be, from her lack of ambition (she’s literally never had a job) to her cringe-worthy self-assuredness.
Despite Westerbeck’s frenzied comedic touches, Beth is a distinctly unlikable protagonist. This isn’t to say every musical heroine needs a Pollyanna complex—it’s often the less endearing characters who tell the most interesting stories—but she does need motivation. Unfortunately for Complexity, Beth’s character never evolves, never makes active choices, never even changes out of her couch-lounging leggings and t-shirt ensemble. This lack of drive seeps into the rest of the story, resulting in a musical with very little forward momentum.
Complexity does have its charms, however. By far the most engaging character is the two-person ensemble (Beatrice Alonna and Leah Cohen), who energize the stage with clever vocal percussions and harmonies. The ensemble also shapes the world of the play, both between scenes and during musical numbers, rearranging cubes and flats to create fascinating visual snapshots. The movement of this musical (directed by Katie Kiessling) is its strongest feature, coloring the narrative with subtle tone-setting touches.
Dana Lee Capanna gives a commendable portrayal of Beth’s roommate, and William McGlone’s literal boy-next-door charms make for an endearing love interest. The standout performance doesn’t break through until the proverbial eleventh hour, however, when Lauren Ackermann portrays a new character with a soaring vocal delivery. Babe is as nuanced as her name implies, but Ackermann’s performance imbues the sudden third-wheel character with a surprising degree of emotional depth.
Complexity: A One Woman Show
By Kylie Westerbeck
Details and tickets
Musically, Complexity has some unique, touching moments. The lyrics are mostly unoriginal, but some of the melodies are fresh and even complex. The usual musical theatre convention for song breakouts—when a characters’ feelings are too great for words—is largely missing from this story, as there are very few stakes at risk. The energy behind the songs however, even when unsupported by the story, makes for some spirited ensemble numbers.
Complexity has the potential to live in a tongue-in-cheek world of satire and hyperbole (one of the major plot points, for instance, revolves around Beth’s sudden dream of becoming a barista, then her crushing dismay after an unsuccessful interview). It instead tries to delve into deeper territory by exploring the intricacies of 21st century relationships—but as of now, the musical’s characters don’t have the depth or drive to bring these themes to life.
Complexity lands when it’s in silly, almost genre-savvy mode, particularly via its movement-heavy ensemble songs. It isn’t a particularly revelatory new musical, but thanks to some energized performances and quippy moments, it’s a story that manages to occasionally shine.
Complexity. Creator: Kylie Westerbeck. Director: Ileana Fortuno. Cast: Kylie Westerbeck, Dana Lee Capanna, William McGlone, Lauren Ackermann, Beatrice Alonna, Leah Cohen. Design: Kylie Westerbeck (music director), Katie Kiessling (movement director, costume designer), Shawn Collins (lighting designer), Dana Melnyk (set designer). Crew: Hallie Wilmes (stage manager), Kelsey Romeo (production manager), Madalyn Ferlazzo and Aslhey Carbrera (crew) . Produced by Whit West Theatre Company . Reviewed by Maegan Clearwood.