Review: Melissa Etheridge Rocks and Reminisces on Broadway

In a combination solo concert and live memoir, Etheridge keeps the audience in thrall for more than two hours of storytelling, jokes, and songs.

Melissa Etheridge in My Window at Circle in the Square Theater. Jenny Anderson

Melissa Etheridge: My Window | 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. | Circle in the Square Theater | 1633 Broadway | 212-239-6200

Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner recently showed his ass while promoting his collection of rock-star interviews The Masters, blithely defended the omission of women and people of color. Not smart enough, not articulate enough, went the doucheboomer’s reasoning; they’re not “philosophers of rock.” Setting aside the peculiar notion of a guitar-shredding metaphysician, we should all agree that including Mick Jagger (never shuts up about Wittgenstein) but not Tina Turner shows a basic lack of judgment. 

As part of his re-education program, the publisher could take in Melissa Etheridge: My Window, a combination solo concert and live memoir, where the rock goddess keeps the audience in thrall for more than two hours of storytelling, jokes, and wailing on her Ovation Standard 12-String. As for philosophy,  Etheridge advances an agreeable theory: “All is love, all is choice.” 

Starting at the very beginning (literally her birth), the singer-songwriter takes us to present day, through career highs and the depth of personal tragedy. In no way does Etheridge reinvent the solo theatrical memoir, but she performs with a natural ease, like your wild aunt telling stories over beers one Thanksgiving. Not limiting herself to the stage at Circle in the Square, Etheridge struts down the center aisle, parks her butt on a ticketholder’s armrest, and (the night I attended) slings an audience member’s leg over a shoulder while serenading her. Now that’s fan service. 

Melissa Etheridge in My Window. Jenny Anderson

Co-written by Etheridge and her partner, Linda Wallem Etheridge, the narrative passages are somewhat sketchy and reliant on self-help clichés. Checking the script provided to reviewers afterward, I came across this bit from her early years: “I had spent those four years singing country and rock songs in the sanctuaries of alcohol and dancing of the Midwest. I had ducked behind the Hammond B3 organ as a fight broke out and bottles and chairs were being thrown.” I didn’t recall Etheridge using these words. Still, if she paraphrases her own script, inserting a frequent “um” “you know” and “yeah,” it adds to the unpretentious vibe. 

Growing up a guitar-crazy musical prodigy in Kansas, young Melissa had a supportive dad and a withholding, alcoholic mom. Attending high school while playing gigs in bars, Melissa began to have strange urges she kept quiet about. Her crushes on other girls blossomed when she went to study music in Boston: it was there she became a proud (if not yet out) lesbian. Dropping out of college and moving west to Los Angeles, the mulleted Sappho found her voice and a label, cranking out a stream of hard-rocking anthems about love and loss. After intermission, we learn more about the major women in her life, her battle with breast cancer, and the loss of a son to opioid addiction. All this and not one but two vividly recounted drug trips (projection designer Olivia Sebesky provides the oscillating flower patterns and vivid colors) that changed her life.

Director Amy Tinkham keeps her star more or less on track, Andrea Lauer swaddles her in leather, chunky heels, and a parade of glittery vests, while Abigail Rosen Holmes lights her with an array of concert-style lights (and one powerful use of near-darkness). As “The Roadie,” the impish and energetic Kate Owens juggles the roles of prop deliverer, set mover, and silent scene partner for Etheridge, flirting with the singer, parading her Grammy and Oscar awards, and shaking her booty to the beat. 

Despite the occasional tangent on, say, plant-based medicine (cannabis versus chemo), My Window is a straightforward artist’s journey of self-expression and survival, lovingly ladled to a fan-filled crowd in itself worth watching. Two women behind me gossiped unabashedly through most of the second act but clammed up every time Etheridge launched into one of her chart-toppers: “Bring Me Some Water,” “I’m the Only One” and the title heartbreaker. Let’s be real: that voice is why we’re here, raspy compound of whiskey, gravel and gasoline. Like its owner, it has mellowed, lessened in force and range, but still calls to our window from the darkness, an alley cat wail of raw desire and the will to never back down.

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Review: Melissa Etheridge Rocks and Reminisces on Broadway