Autobiographical solo shows generally come in two flavors: there are revealers and revealers. With the start of his new musical biography My window At New World Stages, Grammy-winning rocker Melissa Etheridge is pioneering a new genre somewhere in the middle: the revealer. For nearly three hours, she delights us with dry humor and lots of music, telling us about her life from the day she was born until this very night. It’s only when you think about it afterwards that you realize you haven’t learned much more about the real Melissa Etheridge than you knew when you walked in.
Etheridge, who primarily wrote the series (with contributions from his wife, Nurse Jackie designer Linda Wallem), gives us everything and the kitchen sink, and more, but without too many details. She was born (a hilarious gag that begins with her screaming “I gotta get out!” as she enters the stage from a giant box – interpret it all how you like) in Leavenworth, Kansas, discovered music and her sexuality (somewhat in tandem), rose to fame, survived breast cancer, took a “heroic dose” of cannabis that led her to discover the secrets of the universe, and finally decided to live a life as happy as possible in the face of conflict. It’s a pretty standard “A person leaves a small town in search of fame and fortune” narrative, which is pretty much what all of these shows are, and it’s two hours and 50 minutes long with intermission.
See, My window is delicious. Etheridge is an incredible performer. She had me in the palm of her hand from the minute she slipped out of the box and I’m not even a casual fan – walking in I could only tell you one, maybe two, of his songs. (As I write this, I’m listening to his discography, because I’m into it now.) But there’s so much fat in this script that needs to be edited, cut, or revised. We don’t even get a full song until nearly an hour into the show, and especially in the overly long opening section, which gives us a vague glimpse into her childhood and family dynamics, she doesn’t seem quite comfortable yet. She eventually gets there.
Etheridge and director Amy Tinkham should have gone further than further. There is a lot of circumvention of feelings, and just as many things left unsaid. Projection designer Olivia Sebesky displays images of people like Etheridge’s first wife, Julie Cypher, on screen, but Etheridge does not name her or anyone else. It might be for the sake of protecting others, or for the sake of self-preservation and privacy, but it’s not like those details weren’t already well known (honestly, she went a lot further away in the interviews). It would only make the article better if she was as honest throughout as she is towards the end, when talking about her son Beckett’s fatal overdose in 2020 and how Cypher sent him an email saying it was Etheridge’s fault. That’s the kind of honesty that should be displayed throughout, and the fact that this particular section exists proves she’s not afraid to go there.
There’s a costless quality to Tinkham’s relatively uncluttered staging, set on a theatrically bare stage designed by Bruce Rodgers. The music sounds great thanks to Colle Bustin’s wonderful sound design, and the lighting by Abigail Rosen Holmes is surprisingly moody. There are even costume changes – not really for Etheridge, who takes off a punk rock jacket and puts on another, but for a second character, a quiet roadie (hilariously played by Kate Owens). As this roadie falls deeper into Etheridge’s spell, his traditionally militant behind-the-scenes attire gets weirder and weirder, a continuing visual gag from designer Andrea Lauer that could use a bigger payout.
As for the music, of course, it’s great. Etheridge’s fan base doesn’t really care how long the show is or what it’s about, they’re just happy to see it up close and personal in a relatively small (albeit completely charmless) auditorium, and they would listen to him play all night if they could. Honestly, I would too – her voice is in outstanding form for a 61-year-old woman who has been a rock star for most of her adult life. He has all the texture, all the sharpness, like on his records. And seeing her mastery of the guitar (she must play at least half a dozen different guitars during the show, I’ve lost count) in such an intimate setting is a real treat.
Shows like this are usually “your mileage may vary depending on how much you like the subject” type, but in My window, Etheridge made me a new fan. With the right kind of work, this show could really become the event it wants to be, but it’s a party I’m still glad I attended.