With 'My Window,' Melissa Etheridge fulfills her Broadway dreams

Etheridge shares how her theatrical concert, which pairs her soulful songs with a lifetime of memories, came to be, alongside the people who helped create it.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

"People ask me what my wife is made of," said Linda Wallem of Grammy-winning musician Melissa Etheridge. "I say she's made up of water, cannabis, and joy."

An evocative trio if there ever was one. It's also a decent summary of My Window, Etheridge's Broadway show, whose opening night was the occasion on which we spoke. Through November 19, Etheridge takes the Circle in the Square Theatre stage to sing her hits and share the story of how she went from a young girl singing in Kansas bars to a young adult singing in California bars. Except this time, they were lesbian bars. Oh, and they ended up being her launchpad to the globally bestselling rock star status she continues to hold at 62.

I've skipped over a lot of life that happened in between — namely the rough patches — but that's Etheridge's story to tell anyhow. She's already done so in two memoirs (the most recent, Talking to My Angels, debuted only a month ago) and dozens of confessional songs, but she only got the idea to make a Broadway show of her life a few years ago, when a fellow rocker did the same. Hint: She's spoken often about his influence on her sound and career as a whole, and he's beat her out for two Grammys.

"It was actually Bruce Springsteen," Etheridge said. "Seeing how he presented his music and his life on Broadway, I said, 'Wait a minute, that is a vehicle which I can do.'"

Etheridge's show is "very different" — she and Springsteen lead "different lives," she clarified — but both spotlight a musician and their guitar and little else, leaving plenty of room for thoughtful lyrics and memories to shine through.

One other parallel: Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa, was an onstage fixture at most of his Broadway performances. Wallem holds an equally major role off stage as My Window's co-writer.

"This show has healed us on so many levels," Wallem said. "It brings me such joy because I know she's coming from pure joy."

The couple have known each other since their school days in Kansas, and they've been theatre fans just as long. Wallem recalled Etheridge's turn as Aunt Eller in a high school production of Oklahoma! (a musical that occupied the Circle in the Square four years ago).

Etheridge seemed to take her wife's (lovingly joking) response to that performance — "Honey, don't recreate that; let's do better" — to heart. Twelve years before going the memoir route instead, Etheridge made her Broadway debut with a wildly different role altogether: the drug-dealing punk St. Jimmy in American Idiot.

Wallem went on to recall an even more full-circle moment: her own first Broadway show, 1979's Sweeney Todd, which she saw at the Uris Theatre with her childhood best friend, Joe Mantello. That theatre is now the Gershwin, where Mantello directs Wicked right next to the Circle in the Square.

With all this theatrical history between the pair, it's almost surprising that it took Springsteen's Broadway show to kick Etheridge's into high gear. Well, him and one more crucial woman to My Window: Amy Tinkham, a veteran concert director.

"We have known each other since our children were small — our children went to the same nursery school," Tinkham said. "We did fundraisers together for them as moms, and we always said, 'My god, we should make a show together.'"

"But she's Melissa," she continued. "She doesn't need a show because she can do it all on her own."

Turns out that's not quite true when you've found the team that shares your dreams. Or, if one wanted to paraphrase Etheridge's own words, the only ones who'd walk across a fire to make them happen. Etheridge told me she'd want to play Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun next — maybe that's the next dream she, with Wallem and Tinkham's support, will realize. I'd surely come to the ticket window.

Photo credit: Melissa Etheridge in My Window. (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

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