To truly appreciate Melissa Etheridge: My Window, you may need to be a hardcore fan of the singer-songwriter or a member of Generation X, who was born between 1965 and 1980, grew up with Etheridge’s music on the radio and are now nostalgic for the vanishing youth her playlist evokes. I, alas, am neither.
Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t like some of Etheridge’s songs or don’t find her to be an engaging performer but while I read at least two reviews that compare her musical memoir to listening to a quirky but beloved aunt at a Thanksgiving dinner, I felt like the outsider at the table who doesn’t know enough of—or care enough about—family lore to get all the inside jokes and rebukes.
However there were plenty of people who clearly loved every minute of the performance I attended at Circle in the Square, where the show is currently scheduled to run through Nov. 19,
The show starts with Etheridge’s birth 62 years ago in Leavenworth, Kansas and tracks her career from her childhood fascination with music through playing gigs in local bars during her teens, her aborted time at the Berklee College of Music and the years she spent playing in lesbian bars before getting a record deal and becoming a rock star who now has two Grammys and an Oscar.
She gets into her personal life too, including the discovery of her interest in girls, the ups and downs of her various love relationships, her bout with cancer and the opioid overdose of her 21-year-old son in 2020.
Etheridge has always traded on her regular-gal vibe but she’s been a star for three decades now and so bits of her privilege peek through as she recalls her tours and name drops celebrity friends, from Rosie O’Donnell to Al Gore.
Her storytelling is very subjective (as the title of the show says it is her window) but this creates a fuzziness that can make it difficult to follow the narrative if you don’t already know the details. For example, in one sentence she’s agreeing to have children because it’s something her then partner wants and in the next, she’s a single mother raising two kids without an explanation of how she ended up with custody instead of the other mom.
But basically, this is a concert filled with greatest hits and extended patter written by Etheridge and her now wife, the TV producer and writer Linda Wallem Etheridge. Changing jackets (leather, denim, sequins) and instruments (piano, drums, the clarinet and various acoustic and electric guitars) Etheridge runs through 19 songs, most of them hers, although she includes the tune “On Broadway” to express her delight in having moved the show there after a two-week off-Broadway tryout at New World Stages last fall.
An experienced and energetic performer, she frequently leaves the stage and makes her way through the audience, stopping to flirt with both women and men. Although I did feel sorry for the folks who paid $200 for upfront floor seats, only to have to spend a good part of the time craning their necks as she moved past them to a smaller stage set up at the back of that section.
Her only backup are the comedian Kate Owens, who, under the direction of Amy Tinkham, silently, but still amusingly, plays an onstage roadie, and video projections by Olivia Sebesky that run the gamut from homey family photos to psychedelic cat videos.
I’ve read that Etheridge was inspired to do this show after Bruce Springsteen did his. That makes me wonder if these concert confessionals are going to replace bio-musicals. They’re certainly cheaper to put on than full-fledged musical productions and fans get the added thrill of seeing their real idols up close and kind of personal. Who knows maybe come 2024, Beyoncé will be looking back at her life in a show on Broadway.