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Review: Haley Johnson's A DECADE IN SONG at Don't Tell Mama

A Musical Journey

By: Jun. 12, 2024
Review: Haley Johnson's A DECADE IN SONG at Don't Tell Mama  Image
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Haley Johnson’s debut performance in New York City has been a long time coming. She moved to the big apple ten years ago to pursue a career in the arts, worked three jobs, nanny’d for a while, and worked as an administrative assistant. Her show at Don’t Tell Mama, aptly titled A Decade in Song, reflects that journey. As the lights dim, she approaches the stage in a shiny blue dress reminiscent of ocean waves. She dives right into the opening number with gusto, performing a waltzy rendition of Comes Once in a Lifetime - originally sung by Judy Garland. A different Judy Garland number closes the show, with the always-iconic Somewhere Over the Rainbow serving as an outro. After her first number, Ms Johnson talked about being in a theater and seeing Wizard of Oz, and singing along to every song at age 6. The show features many iconic songs such as the defiantly triumphant Not for the Life of Me (originally sung by Sutton Foster in the 2002 stage musical version of Thoroughly Modern Millie), the playful-yet-empowering An Occasional Man (made famous by the 1955 film Girl Rush), and the wistfully poignant A Way Back to Then (originally sung by Heidi Blickenstaff). With the talented backing band consisting of Tony DePaulis on upright bass, Matt Baker on the keys (also serving as the musical director), and Marchello Cardillo on the drums, Haley’s voice carries a captivating evening. 

She weaves in personal anecdotes to make the songs seem more autobiographical in a few different ways. Sometimes she uses humor, such as when she tells a story about an attempt to cook lobster to impress a boyfriend going horribly wrong, ending with a description of her future-fiance entering the apartment to see two live lobsters crawling around on the floor and Haley in a panic. She follows up this story with an ironic rendition of I Can Cook Too (from the musical On the Town), a song about the singer’s ability to impress men with her excellent culinary skills. Or earlier in the show, when she satirizes her time as a “corporate girlie” and “treating the office like a runway” by singing All About the Green. That number, originally from the 2006 musical adaptation of The Wedding Singer, is a particular highlight, showcasing Ms Johnson’s verve and passion for the art form. With each little anecdote she gives, Miss Johnson provides the context for why she chose each song she chose, and gives you a little insight into her life, reflecting the theme of A Decade in Song. 

The variety of time periods the songs are from helps feed the show’s dynamism, drawing on works dating back to the 1930s, some from the 2000s, and some from in between. However, two golden age Hollywood figures in particular loom large the evening’s performance: Julie Andrews and Judy Garland. Both iconic actresses score multiple nods in the set list, with Judy Garland numbers opening and closing the evening, while Julie Andrews gets a portion of the iconic Mary Poppins numbers Spoonful of Sugar and Favorite Things, as well as a further nod through Ms Johnson’s performance of Not for the Life of Me, a song from the 2002 Thoroughly Modern Millie stage adaptation (the song in question is from the 2002 stage musical and originally sung by Sutton Foster as Millie, but the role of Millie was originally played by Julie Andrews in the 1967 movie musical). However, Ms Johnson manages to wear her influences on her sleeve without being overtaken by them. She has a quiet confidence and nervous humor that makes her a likable performer, with the vocal chops to back it up.

If the show has a message, it would be one of joy and hope. Right before performing her encore, as she reflected on her journey to get to this point, Haley said: “It is never too late to do the thing that brings you joy.” It was Ms Johnson’s debut performance, but as the night went on, her nervousness faded into confidence, and the confidence became joy. She clearly loves singing for a crowd, and that energy made for a great show.


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