Melissa Etheridge: My Window
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Familiarity can breed contempt, but judging by the reaction of my friend, K, that’s not the case with “Melissa Etheridge: My Window,” the admittedly beguiling show now being put on by the Oscar- and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter at Circle in the Square.
For the record, K – who listened to every episode of Etheridge’s videocast through the Covid pandemic, seemed quite familiar with many of the details of Etheridge’s complex life story, and knew almost all of the 15 original songs Etheridge performed (stunningly) – called the show “one of the most thrilling evenings of her life.”
Do I concur? Not quite, but even though I knew only two of Etheridge’s songs (as well as the handful of songs she didn’t write, including “On Broadway” and “Sugar, Sugar”) and a certain amount of her triumphs and tribulations, I’m very glad I was there to witness this special show. You likely will be too.
A superb storyteller, whether or not she’s singing one of her many trenchant tunes, Etheridge guides us from the moment of her birth – May 29, 1961 – to the present day in sometimes excruciating, sometimes hilarious detail. (I do think the piece should be 20 minutes shorter; there’s a bit of TMI in the nearly three-hour presentation.)
Moreover, I was extremely impressed by Etheridge’s down-to-earth persona, full of humility and humanity. Not everyone would still be standing after what she’s been through (most notably, her adult son’s death by opioid overdose), never mind willing to share these stories with an audience of strangers. I wanted nothing more than to buy her a drink when the show was over.
Nor does Etheridge play the blame game. True, she seemed to get little emotional support from her mother, but she doesn’t seem to be holding a lifetime grudge. As far as being both lucky and unlucky in love, she states with no malice that she and her ex-partners drifted apart and expresses thankfulness that she has found the true love of her life. (Weirdly, Etheridge uses no one’s real name in her stories, including her current wife and co-writer, Linda Wallem Etheridge, although most of the primary players’ identities have long been public knowledge.)
Mostly, her presentation is mostly matter-of-fact but still heartfelt – which proves to be quite an effective strategy – although she gets a bit too flowery while talking about her fondness for plant-based medicines. (To her credit, Etheridge has started The Etheridge Foundation, which researches plant medicine as an alternative to opioids.)
That said, the show is quite theatrical in its own way, thanks to the clever direction of Amy Tinkham. Much of the normal playing area of the theater is now filled with seats, while Etheridge mostly stands on a rarely-seen stage with a few props (including a piano) and backed by a series of ever-changing colorful and creative projections (by Olivia Sebesky).
For a few numbers, she even interacts with the folks in those seats, and then comes to the center of the playing area to perform, occasionally venturing up the side steps. It’s an up-close-and-personal experience that both fans and neophytes will truly treasure.
Wisely, as well, “My Window” is also not, technically, a solo show. Kate Owens is adorable and funny as Etheridge’s “roadie,” who brings the star her many guitars and leather jackets, places her awards on a podium on the stage, and even throws a bit of glitter. She never steals the spotlight, but it’s nice to see Etheridge so willing to share it.
And while the show’s title has many meanings, it does derive, in part, from Etheridge’s mega-hit “Come to My Window,” which closes the show on a literal high note. And unlike cabaret, there is no encore! When the song is over, the “window” is closed. Fortunately, we’ve been able to take a long, sometimes hard, and often revealing look at the life of an extraordinary woman!
By Brian Scott Lipton