At the 1993 Triangle Ball, an LGBTQIA+ celebration held for President Bill Clinton's first inauguration, Melissa Etheridge famously announced from the terrace overlooking the crowd, “I’m proud to say right now, I’m very proud to have been a lesbian all my life.” It was a spontaneous coming out, but that moment changed how Etheridge interacted with the world.
“In my teens, in my 20s…I thought I needed to be what other people thought was the right thing to be or bend myself into something that other people liked,” she says. But Etheridge noticed a marked change in the way people responded after her proclamation. She sold more records. A lot more. And three singles from her 1993 album Yes I Am hit the Top 100, with “Come to My Window” earning a Grammy.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is really interesting.’ And people started saying how courageous I was. Still, to this day, just thousands of people come to me telling me how much I helped them come out,” says Etheridge. “This sort of goodness that came back to me—wow, just being honest about yourself, just saying, ‘Hey, this is my story, boom.’ And not worrying that about the judgment really has an upside to it.”
Since then, she’s been living her life truthfully and has not really been shy about opening up. And now she’s sharing her life story, through storytelling and song, in her own Broadway show. Melissa Etheridge: My Window officially opened September 28 at Circle in the Square.
This isn’t her Broadway debut, though. She played a one-week stint as St. Jimmy in the 2010 Green Day musical American Idiot. In fact, she insists she’s always been a Broadway girl. Ask her to name her favorite Broadway musical and you’ll get a list. When she was in high school, she got to see a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar in Kansas City. “I was carried away. The music!” says the musician. “That’s one of my top three musicals.” But she continues, listing Annie, another tour she saw in Kansas City, then Chicago on her first trip to New York. And The Phantom of the Opera for the chandelier. “Oh my gosh!” she interrupts herself. “Wicked!”
Growing up in Kansas, Broadway was a fantasy place for a young singer. But still, she fell in love with musicals in show choir. “I even wrote a musical in high school,” she says. “It was basically a copy of Godspell, but I wrote it!”
My Window is an autobiography of sorts, beginning with that Kansas childhood and walking through the her coming out, her romances and break-ups, her cancer diagnosis, and her current marriage (to television writer and showrunner Linda Wallem Etheridge, who helped develop the show). The songs from her career serve as a live soundtrack; Etheridge accompanies herself on guitar, drums, piano, and looping machine.
My Window had its genesis during the pandemic. In the first days of lockdown, Etheridge found she was already missing her fans, so she began livestreaming daily concerts to keep those connections. Then in May 2020, her son Beckett Cypher died from an overdose, a casualty of the opioid epidemic. Her streaming concerts then became a part of her recovery. She speaks of his death now in My Window every night. “There's a certain amount of taking a deep breath before that part in the show,” says Etheridge. “Yet every night, there is a great healing, too.”
And though she’s been called courageous, it’s not a label she feels is necessary. Again, she’s just being truthful. “It’s funny. We live in a world where vulnerability is very courageous,” she says, the smile stretching through the earthy rasp of her voice. “That’s funny. That just stating your story, and who you are, and your beliefs is courageous. I think by everyone telling their story, and walking in their own truth, it really helps change the world. Sometimes we think, ‘Oh, we all have to be this way and do it this way.’ And that's not true. There's a billion ways of living our lives and our own stories.”
The limited engagement of My Window runs through November 19 and Etheridge is looking forward to taking a break when the show closes. “My manager keeps calling me to talk about next year and I said, ‘At this point, I don't want to do anything.’ I'm just working so hard,” she says laughing. “You Broadway folks? I am in awe of how hard you go. It is stunning.” (This? From a rockstar who has spent 30 years on tour!)
But she’ll be back. Her high school copy of Godspell will not be the only original musical she ever writes. “Oh, you have my promise,” she states (without much prodding at all). “Right now, my wife and I, every day being here in New York City, every day being on Broadway is so inspiring. I can guarantee, as long as somebody wants to produce it, we are writing it. We are doing it.”