curtain call

Melissa Etheridge casts a one-way gaze in her Off-Broadway debut

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge in ‘My Window – A Journey Through Life.’ Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest openings on Broadway and beyond.

The Rundown:

Two-time Grammy winner and 15-time nominee Melissa Etheridge delivers the story of her life in My Window – A Journey Through Life, a nearly three-hour solo performance now playing Off-Broadway that packs in 24 songs and just as many anecdotes. If that seems like a lot of Etheridge, it is. But the singer-songwriter’s star power is undeniable, and at 61 years old, she still delivers the emotional ferocity that is the very definition of rock ‘n roll. The background behind her songs gives them even more depth, but a hunger for the spotlight casts a shadow on the intimate relationships that often buckle under the pressure of her creative pursuits.

Related: 10 music videos from queer artists to jam out to all day

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge in ‘My Window – A Journey Through Life.’ Photo by Jenny Anderson.

No Tea, No Shade:

Bursting out of a road case like Harry Houdini, Etheridge immediately engages the audience, jumping into a chronological retelling of her life, from her childhood in Leavenworth, Kansas, to a brief stint at Berklee College of Music, followed by her slow rise to success, playing lesbian bars throughout Los Angeles until being introduced to Island Records’ Chris Blackwell. Sixteen studio albums later, Etheridge is undeniably a force to be reckoned with.

Written in collaboration with current wife Linda Wallem Etheridge, whose writing and producing credits include That ‘70s Show and Nurse Jackie, her stories have the well-crafted arc and casualness of sitting at your favorite bar with a bestie. It’s no wonder that Julie Cypher and Tammy Lynn Michaels fell hard for her; she also hung out with other A-listers like Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell. None of them are mentioned by name but archetyped with broad strokes to preserve their anonymity, though even the casual fan can figure out the references. Her guitars, though, get full credit, which may indicate Etheridge’s one true love.

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge in ‘My Window – A Journey Through Life.’ Photo by Jenny Anderson.

The impeccably polished production makes the most of theatricalizing what is essentially a concert with an abundance of talking. Richly pigmented lighting by Abigail Rosen Holmes and crystal clear sound by Colle Bustin prove Etheridge’s ability to assemble a first-rate production team, while Olivia Sebesky’s projection design draws upon still photography and archival video footage from Etheridge’s life to give context and breadth to her stories.

Musicality permeates Etheridge’s journey, from her childhood desire to play drums and acquiescing to clarinet to teaching herself piano, along with her original love of guitar. She seamlessly vacillates among all the instruments, handed off by “Roadie” Kate Owens, a terrific physical comedian and stage presence in her own right.

Etheridge gets a bit trippy, speaking of the night when she ate copious amounts of cannabis cookies and began a foray into plant-based healing powers, which she loosely references when sharing about her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2004. The following year, she performed at the Grammy Awards, singing “Piece of My Heart” in a tribute to Janis Joplin.

Let’s Have a Moment:

While her romantic partners remain anonymous, Etheridge speaks openly of her children Baily Jean, Johnnie Rose, and Miller Steven, and the recent tragedy that befell Beckett, who died from an opioid overdose in 2020. “Today I joined the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction,” she tweeted at the time, “I will sing again soon, it will always heal me.”

In response, Etheridge wrote, “Here Comes the Pain.” Performed under a dim shadow and darkened stage, it’s one of the singer’s most vulnerable moments of the evening.

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge in ‘My Window – A Journey Through Life.’ Photo by Jenny Anderson.

The Last Word:

Etheridge has been a trailblazer throughout her career, both on and off stage. She publicly came out at the 1993 Triangle Ball commemorating President Bill Clinton’s inaugural celebration, then appeared on the February 2000 cover of Rolling Stone with her then partner and the children’s surrogate father. The headline read, “The Name of the Father and the Making of a New American Family.”

Yet in My Window, Etheridge often points the finger at her past loves’ inability to let her fully shine and live her authentic life. Her stories reveal a pattern of troubled lovers, followed by a burst of creative songwriting and heading out on tour. At nearly three hours long, she leaves little room for introspection on her role in the demise of her relationships. She keeps the lid firmly sealed while speaking, but when in song, Etheridge magnetically invites audiences to “Come to My Window.”

My Window – A Journey Through Life plays Off-Broadway at New World Stages through October 29.