As noted in her extended bio in the current show’s Playbill, rock singer, songwriter, and musician Melissa Etheridge first appeared on Broadway in 2011, playing the character St. Jimmy in Green Day’s rock musical American Idiot. Now she’s back on the Broadway stage as herself in Melissa Etheridge: My Window, playing a limited engagement at Circle in the Square, following the Off-Broadway world premiere of the autobiographical program of storytelling and music at New World Stages in October 2022. As with Bruce Springsteen’s earlier concert residency Springsteen on Broadway, it’s not a theater-lover’s paradigmatic Broadway musical, but an opportunity for devoted fans to get a more up-close-and-personal experience than is possible at huge-scale stadium concerts with between-songs banter, and for the 62-year-old award-winning rock star to check another must-do dream off her bucket list.
Written by Etheridge, with additional material by her wife Linda Wallem-Etheridge (a screenwriter, producer, director, and actress), the direct-address monologues recount an extensive selection of memories from the trajectory of her life and career, interspersed with songs that don’t advance a theatrical plot, but restate in musical terms the emotions she felt, how she viewed the events and relationships she shares, or what works she created and performed at the time. Under Amy Tinkham’s direction, Etheridge takes a mostly casual, chatty, and joking approach to the delivery of her reminiscences, and moves around and off the stage, walking through the center aisle of the floor, interacting with members of the audience (at the performance I attended, she removed a woman’s scarf and wrapped it around her own neck, then admired another’s pink-glitter sneakers, slung the excited fan’s foot on her shoulder, and sang to her), and performing a few songs on a small stepped platform in the middle of the house, to create that sense of connection.
Her personal stories include a retrospective of her childhood, dynamics with her family, and early love of music in her hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas, her rise from the local gigs she regularly played to hitting the big time in LA, and the celebrities she met, befriended, and worked with (slyly hint-dropping rather than name-dropping who they were – not sure why, since her followers surely know and everyone else can easily find them in her bio on Wikipedia). She also relates the stories of coming-out to her parents and the public, reveals details of her dating and romantic partnerships, and joyously expresses her commitment to Lesbian Pride. There are later segments describing her battle with cancer, preaching about her advocacy and use of psychedelic drugs, and exposing the heartbreak of losing her son to opioid addiction and how she survived the trauma (though saying surprisingly little about her other children).
Judging by the screams, thunderous applause, and a mid-show standing ovation, much of the audience was there for the musical numbers. They range from Etheridge’s megahits “Like the Way I Do” (which opened the program), “Nowhere to Go,” “I Want to Come Over,” “I’m the Only One,” and “Come to My Window” (which inspired the title of the show and closed it), to her own original renditions of such rock-and-roll classics as “Piece of My Heart” (which she was invited to sing at the 2005 Grammys in tribute to Janis Joplin) and the thematically appropriate “On Broadway” – all performed in her signature gritty powerhouse voice while accompanying herself on a variety of instruments – electric and acoustic guitars, piano, and even briefly on drums and clarinet – and sometimes using reverb to enrich the sound. At points throughout the show, Etheridge is joined on stage by Kate Owens, making her Broadway debut as “The Roadie,” who assists with the instruments, mics, and props (among them, the actual award trophies Etheridge has won), dances to the music, and embodies a few of the people mentioned in the real-life stories.
The performance is supported by an artistic design that generally evokes the look and feel of a rock concert, with a stage set by Bruce Rodgers and sound by Shannon Slaton, costumes by Andréa Lauer comprised of black leather pants, glittering jackets, tee-shirt, and sneakers for Etheridge, and crew overalls for Owens, hair and make-up by Neil Scibelli, colorful rotating lighting by Olivia Sebesky that illuminates both the stage and the house (with a sudden blackout and a pale white spotlight when the talk turns to her son’s tragic death), and a projection design by Abigail Rosen Holmes featuring vintage photos of the star, her family, and the places she’s been, videos of her performances, and swirling patterns that simulate the effects of psychedelic drugs.
Theater purists might find Etheridge’s show more in keeping with the format of a cabaret or rock concert than a Broadway musical, but her loyal devotees will be thrilled to get to know her better, to hear her story in her own words and voice, and to revisit her popular songs in a relatively – for a rock star – intimate setting and staging.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission.
Melissa Etheridge: My Window plays through Sunday, November 19, 2023, at Circle in the Square, 235 West 50th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $99.50-368.50, plus fees), go online. Masks are not required.