Theatre Review by Howard Miller - September 28, 2023
Melissa Etheridge: My Window by Melissa Etheridge with Linda Wallem Etheridge. Directed by Amy Tinkham. Scenic design by Bruce Rodgers. Projection design by Olivia Sebesky. Lighting design by Abigail Rosen Holmes. Costume design by Andrea Lauer. Sound design Shannon Slaton.
Pared down to two-and-a-half hours and polished to a sheen after a previous three-hour version at Off Broadway's New World Stages, Melissa Etheridge: My Window works on so many levels. There are, of course, the songs, 17 of them performed live, with some perfectly integrated recorded loops added in. Etheridge sings and accompanies herself on any number of her acoustic and electric guitars or piano. The pure sound coming from her 12-string is exceptional (loved the mescaline-inspired "Twisted Off to Paradise"), the voice is strong, and the lyrics are personal and revelatory. We even get a bit of drumming and clarinet performances, along with stories to go along with them.
There are also the Broadway-worthy production values: the crystal-clear sound design by Shannon Slaton, dramatic lighting by Abigail Rosen Holmes, great use of projections by Olivia Sebesky, costumes (many changes of jackets on top of designer Andrea Lauer's windmill logo t-shirt and black pants), even Bruce Rodgers' simple set design, which allows Etheridge to be seen clearly from all angles of the three-quarters-of-a-circle seating around the thrust stage (she also moves out into the audience for some of her numbers). Director Amy Tinkham certainly knows how to mount a show, having worked as both a choreographer and as a director on projects with Madonna, The Chicks, Aerosmith, James Taylor, and others.
But Melissa Etheridge: My Window is far more than a snazzed-up-for-Broadway concert. Seamlessly integrated into the music is the story of a life, Etheridge's life (the dialogue has been scripted by Etheridge, with additional material provided by her wife Linda Wallem Etheridge, best known as a TV writer/producer).
Melissa Etheridge seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge and total recall of her own story, starting with her birth in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1961 and the very early launching of her career. She is generous with praise for those who have helped her along the way. But woe betide anyone who ever gave her a hard time, because some old scores are settled as well. She also seems to be a great collector of memorabilia, offering up projected photographic images of every phase of her life, along with physical evidence to accompany her stories. There is plenty of "show" to go along with the "tell," from a macramé guitar strap to her Grammy and Oscar awards.
Surprisingly for a show in which the person in the spotlight talks about herself for the entire evening, none of this comes off as self-indulgent. That's because Etheridge is, or at least seems to be, congenial, down-to-earth, and as comfortable talking to us as if we were all old friends. She knows how to tell a story, integrate it with the music, and entertain without ever seeming to be boasting or whining about anything. She is comfortable talking about her sexuality, her supportive father, her less-than-terrific relationship with her mother and her sister, her teachers, her lovers, her ambitions and career trajectory, her discovery of what she touts as the benefits of marijuana and psychedelics (she does get a bit preachy on this topic), and most sadly, about the death of her fentanyl-addicted son.
By the way, Etheridge is not alone on stage. She is frequently joined by a silent partner, Kate Owens, who plays a character known as "The Roadie." Owens does the usual roadie tasks of bringing out microphones, musical instruments, props, and changes of clothing. But also, without saying a word, she becomes an integral part of the action, never more so than during a rowdy rendition of the song "Meet Me at the Back" as performed at a lesbian club.
Truly, spending an evening with Melissa Etheridge is thoroughly delightful. For the record, this isn't her very first appearance on Broadway. Back in 2011, she did a brief stint in the role of St. Jimmy in the Green Day musical American Idiot. And she mentions a love of Broadway musicals dating back to her childhood. She also gives us a bit of the old George Benson tune, "On Broadway," with the perfect lyrics: "They say I won't last too long on Broadway. I'll catch a Greyhound bus for home, they all say. But they're dead wrong, I know they are. 'Cause I can play this guitar. And I won't quit til I'm a star on Broadway." Sounds like it was written with her in mind.