Just like there are complex and simple musical plots, there are also simple and complex characters. But what exactly makes a character complex?
It was Wicked that made me start to understand the complexity and emotional side of musicals. Elphaba and Glinda were the first two characters I was able to call complex especially Elphaba.
I think a complex character has a lot to them. They tend to have some kind of inner conflict in their lives. There tends to be a lot to them and feel so well-rounded and feel well real to me. They are characters who tend to express negative emotions due to all of the conflict that is happening in their lives.
Some memorable complex musical characters include Elphaba, Glinda, Eponine, Javert, Jean Valjean, Fiyero (doesn’t seem complex, but now he does), Jack Kelly, Grizabella (yes I just included a cat) and yes there are more, but just can’t think of them at this moment.
Complex characters are the ones that are more fascinating. The complex characters are always in complex plots. Some of these characters don’t seem complex, but they are. Grizabella might seem simple in a way because she is a cat, but still she is complex. That is due to the fact that she is a heartbreaking and tragic character and has to deal with a lot of conflict struggling to be welcomed back into the Jellicle tribe when she came back.
Elphaba is complex in many ways. She has this incredible relatable nature and there is a lot to this character. I keep on being surprised that I keep on adding things to this character. She deals with a lot of conflict and has to face serious discrimination. She is smart, determined, unique, talkative, big-hearted and believes in equality and staying true to herself. The most important part of Elphaba is her relationship with Glinda.
Glinda is complex because at first she just seems pure comical, but in the second act, she goes through a lot of conflict because she has to hear rumors being spread about Elphaba. She even has to put up the fact that Fiyero has broken up with her and now she has unrequited love for Fiyero since he left her for Elphaba.
Fiyero is a character who doesn’t seem complex at all, but recently I began to realize the complexity of him. At first he is just this super rude and annoying Shiz student who doesn’t care about anything. His complexity comes from the love triangle. I keep on questioning him. Did he have a crush on Elphaba without realizing it? I saw signs of that possibility right before “I’m Not That Girl” and after the lion cub incident. Or did he know, but just didn’t tell anybody? Or was he only friends with Elphaba, but didn’t develop a crush or fall in love with her till later? I keep on questioning this because he eventually ends up with Elphaba. For me, I really think he had a crush on Elphaba in act I, but had no clue. He eventually realized it when he heard the rumors spread about Elphaba and could not believe Glinda was supporting all of this and so he decided to break up with her.
Jack Kelly is complex in my opinion. He is very well-rounded and in the musical, he has a hobby of drawing and is very talented at it. He is also the leader of the rest of the Newsies and is quite protective of his brothers especially Crutchie. He eventually goes through a lot of inner conflict after this big fight breaks out.
Jean Valjean is quite a complex character. He is the main character of Les Mis. He has to live his life as an ex-convict. He faces many moral dilemmas. He does his best to live by the example the bishop taught him. There is just so much to him. It must be challenging being an ex-convict and having to raise Cosette. True, Valjean shelters and protects Cosette a lot, but I don’t blame him. He is an ex-convict trying not to be sent back to jail because he knows Javert wants to.
Than there’s Javert. He was a character I honestly didn’t want to get to know. I am not an antagonistic fan person. I eventually noticed the complexity of him. I didn’t even care about him or even his fate. Before seeing the show in the West End, Javert didn’t even matter. I saw three Javerts through the movie, 25th anniversary concert film, and the community college, but none of them made me care about Javert. In the West End, I feel like I finally saw Javert for the first time and I finally cared for him during the suicide scene. Javert only sees the world in black and white and is incapable of showing mercy, love, or forgiveness. His main focus it to recapture Valjean. He takes his job to the extreme and follows the law too strictly.
Eponine is another complex character in Les Mis. You first meet her in 1823 when she was just eight. Through the way the Thenardiers treat Cosette and through realizing they are pickpockets during “Castle on a Cloud” and “Master of the House”, you get an idea of the environment she is going to be growing up in.
Her real complexity shows when she becomes a teenager at age 17. Her life has gotten even worse because at first she was spoiled and appeared to be loved by her parents. But you soon realized that is not even true. She was raised to be a criminal and she is horribly abused, neglected, and lonely. But she is brave despite what she has deal with everyday. You got to understand Eponine’s life outside of Marius to understand why she loves him so much. He was the only source of light in her miserable life and that is a huge reason why she loves him. Yes, she had unrequited love for him, but she still shows true love and would do anything for him. Even though she knows Marius will never be hers, she continues to love him till the end of her story.
In your opinion, what makes a musical character complex?