"Nellie the Musical" - by Robby Steltz and Stephen Murray - 4th Wall Stage Company (Worcester, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: Catie Verostick as “Nellie Bly” in a scene from "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" by Robby Steltz and Stephen Murray, frothe 4th Wall Stage Company in Worcester, MA. through March 9, 2024. Photo Credit: Frank Bartucca Photography)

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“I have at least the satisfaction of knowing that the poor unfortunates will be better cared for because of my work." 

                - ("Ten Days in a Mad-House”) / Nelly Bly

4th Wall Stage Company

Presents Robby Steltz's


The true story of Nellie Bly 

Book by Robby Steltz

Music and Musical Direction by Stephen Murray

Directed and Produced by Barbara Guertin and Robbin Joyce

Cast Includes: Catie Verostick as “Nellie Bly,” Libbey Stearns as “Matron/Nurse,” Tracy Martino as “Mrs. Caine/Catherine,” Jeanine Belcastro Went as “Anne Neville,” Megan Paluzzi as “Mrs. Fox,” Kenly Murray as “Tillie Mayard,” Amy Hall as “Louise Schanz,” Marissa Browning as “Bridget/Eden,” Nicole Lian as “Miss Grupe,” Derek Sylvester as “Man”

Additional Creative Team:

Technical Director - Eric L’Ecuyer; Technical Assistant - Armando Libier; Stage Manager - Morgan Fitzpatrick; Assistant Stage Manager - Vance St. Peter; Set Pieces - Jackie Cormier; Costumes - ACT - Doreen Croteau, Eric Baird, Robbin Joyce; Wigs - Bethany Arsenault of Calliope Productions 


February 28, 2024 through March 9, 2024 

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)

Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm St, Worcester, MA 




Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.

Just in time for Women's History Month, the 4th Wall Stage Company has staged an ambitious new musical based on actual events in "NELLIE THE MUSICAL." 

With a book by Robby Steltz and a score by Stephen Murray, the musical follows the true adventure of reporter Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, who went by the pen name "Nelly Bly," and her exposé in which she worked undercover to report on horrific conditions in a mental institution (in derogatory reference aka an "insane asylum") from within. 

Initially published as a series of articles for the New York World publication, Bly's exposé was subsequently published in book form in 1887 under the title, "Ten Days in a Mad-House."

"Ten Days in a Mad-House" is also the opening number to "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" and sung by a fine cast of performers.

Challenged with the assignment to go undercover in an asylum to report on rumored deplorable conditions, Nelly Bly (Catie Verostick) gets herself committed as a patient.

After pretending to be "troubled" in the outside world and causing a disturbance at a boarding house, Bly is soon committed and sent to the New York City Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island (now known as "Roosevelt Island"). 

Verostick does a commendable job with Bly, in a completely faithful performance.

Understanding Bly is not just a fictional literary character. Verostick's representation is of an actual human being who accomplished something quite extraordinary in her relatively short lifetime (dying at age 57 of pneumonia).

Bly exposed wounds in patient care, especially for women and in the treatment of mentally challenged individuals, bringing about massive institutional change in a time when the women's "Suffrage Movement" had barely begun and many women weren't even allowed to vote. 

In addition, Verostick capably renders several heartfelt songs including the standout Act One closer, "Struck by Words."

(Photo: Catie Verostick as “Nellie Bly” in a scene from "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" by Robby Steltz and Stephen Murray, frothe 4th Wall Stage Company in Worcester, MA. through March 9, 2024. Photo Credit Frank Bartucca Photography)

There were no male patients at Blackwell's Island asylum as they were housed separately on Ward’s Island. 

The women’s-only asylum was overcrowded with deplorable conditions and a "medical staff" which, if history has judged correctly, would have served equally well as staff for the Marquis de Sade

Bly recalls cold baths taken in dirty water, consuming rotted food, abusive medical malpractice, deplorable living conditions and more - all of which we get a clearer sense as the events unfold in "NELLIE THE MUSICAL." 

We also witness the repugnant physical abuse resulting from the female inmates' supposed "caretakers."

In "NELLIE THE MUSICAL." the staff is led...no, ruled...by the sadistic Miss Grupe (Nicole Lian), an stereotype homage to every female warden ever seen in any 80s "women in chains" prison film.

Lian is exceptional playing Grupe as irredeemably and unapologetically evil incarnate. 

As written, Grupe is truly a juicy scenery chewing character, and Lian proudly conveys her character's sinister modus operandi in the song, "Comply," later sung as a reprise with her only trusted aide, simply referred to as "Nurse" (Libbey Stearns).

Stearns performs admirably as the "Nurse" character, giving us a sense this is a person who feels occasionally conflicted or almost forced to perform some reprehensible actions. 

This might be either out of a fear of Grupe or out of the Nurse's own increasing sense of depravity from having been in the asylum way too long. 

Either way, a nicely handled and perceptive approach.

(Photo: Nicole Lian as the villainous “Miss Grupe” in a scene from "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" by Robby Steltz and Stephen Murray, frothe 4th Wall Stage Company in Worcester, MA. through March 9, 2024. Photo Credit Frank Bartucca Photography)

Portraying all the good or evil male characters in the musical (all under the name "Man") is Derek Sylvester in a marvelously diverse performance, reminiscent of the single actor "multi-character" device used in others musicals, such as "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." 

Sylvester accompanies Lian and Stearns harmonizing on the reprise of "Comply" but is given his own chance to shine in the solo "Others" one of the musical's best numbers. 

Among the supporting ensemble of the female patients in the asylum are Tracy Martino as "Catherine," (providing a standout performance singing the suspenseful solo number, "Trapped") Jeanine Belcastro Went as “Anne Neville,” Megan Paluzzi as “Mrs. Fox,” Kenly Murray as “Tillie Mayard,” Amy Hall as “Louise Schanz” and Marissa Browning as “Bridget" and "Eden.”

Collectively, the ensemble harmonizes quite beautifully together, particularly in the songs "Dreaming," and in the show's opener/closer, "Ten Days in a Mad-House." 

Bly's exposé ultimately shone a light on the perpetual cruelty conducted by the institution staff, pressuring Blackwell’s Island asylum and other facilities to render more humane treatment to their patients.  

While the events and characters we observe throughout Steltz's adaptation are unquestionably based upon the actual events and people Bly encountered while "institutionalized," the overall feeling of the musical is that we are only getting a condensed "Reader's Digest" version of the story.

With this approach, we don't really get to know each of the supporting characters as well as we should. 

As some of them meet either sad, cruel, sadistic or even fatal endings, because beforehand we haven't really gotten to know any of them, it isn't enough for us to have become emotionally invested in what happens. 

(Photo: Catie Verostick as “Nellie Bly” in a scene from "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" by Robby Steltz and Stephen Murray, frothe 4th Wall Stage Company in Worcester, MA. through March 9, 2024. Photo Credit Frank Bartucca Photography)

The score provided by Stephen Murray (who also music directs the production and plays piano for the show) aids well in propelling forth the inspired Steltz examination of Bly's story. 

However, with the aforementioned condensed version of events, Murray runs into similar problems in that the backstories of the characters are insufficient for the audience to connect with what is happening to them.

Not that I would ever advocate for a historically exploratory, butt-numbing three-hour musical epic, it does become clear, early on in the story, that the lack of context or backstories in the supporting characters robs us of any chance to truly root for anybody, or be anxious for them as they face their multiple adversities, or mourn when any might meet a tragic end.

Also, one number in particular, "I'm Not Insane," as women are being transported across the water to their asylum destination, is a little bit of a conundrum.

Any audience coming to see "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" most likely is aware that the story centers around women being unjustly incarcerated as being "insane" without the musical needing a number actually stipulating to that rather obvious fact. 

While the melody is strong, as is most of Murray's score, a more lyrical metaphor approach to the "journey into madness" might have been more effective. 

That said, for those familiar with Murray's more lighthearted scores ("Pom-Pom Zombies," "Greece is the Word: The Zeusical!"), the overall path taken here by the composer is far more subdued and beautifully haunting.

"NELLIE THE MUSICAL," as is, feels "excerpted" with Steltz's book in need of an expansion (or broadening), especially in the area of the book's supporting characters. 

The seeds are all there, as exemplified in the fine 4th Wall performances. The characters just require more growth.

(Photo: The CAST of "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" by Robby Steltz and Stephen Murray, frothe 4th Wall Stage Company in Worcester, MA. through March 9, 2024. Photo Credit Frank Bartucca Photography)

As to the staging itself of "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" by Co-Directors Barbara Guertin and Robbin Joyce:

Utilizing the entire space through an immersive staging in a black box setting, the overall 4th Wall production was most effective using just minimalist set pieces. 

The use of the supporting ensemble as a "Greek Chorus" was also an admirable decision, well executed. 

However, while the costumes (including wigs and assorted head coverings) used in the show would normally be considered perfectly appropriate to authentically depict the era in which "NELLIE" takes place, the costumes actually served to detract from the otherwise ambitious visceral approach. 

If the costuming had been reduced, at least to be consistent and kept as minimalist as the rest of the well-staged 4th Wall production, the impact of what the audience was seeing and experiencing would most likely have been enhanced. 

By its conclusion, "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" feels like it has tremendous potential and is a story much in need of being told. 

"NELLIE THE MUSICAL" from 4th Wall Stage Company continues at the Worcester Historical Museum at 30 Elm Street until March 9th, 2024 and, thanks to a solid cast with some wonderfully astute performances, it is a production well worth seeing in celebration of someone who forced a positive change through thoughts, words and actions.

Approximately two hours with one intermission 

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 




"NELLIE THE MUSICAL" is the true story of Nellie Bly, the New York World reporter who checked herself into a lunatic assylum to report on the horrors in 1887.

In the late 1800’s rumors were circulating about alleged horror taking place on Blackwell’s Island, home of the Insane Asylum of New York

Women were apparently the victims of abuse and torture, and one woman, a newspaper reporter, decided to risk her own life to investigate. 

Nellie Bly committed herself to the asylum, documenting her findings and ultimately revealing the horrors to the entire world. 

"NELLIE THE MUSICAL" is adapted from Robby Steltz’s award winning one-act play "NELLIE" as well as Bly’s own book “Ten Days in a Madhouse.” 

Featuring music by local Worcester musician Stephen Murray, "NELLIE THE MUSICAL" tells the incredible story of how this “girl” reporter forever changed the way the world looks at mental health treatment.

Medical historians and patient advocates, however, rightly revere Bly for her infamous exposé. 

Bly published her daring dispatches as a book, “Ten Days in a Mad-House” that remains a classic in the annals of psychiatry and a cogent warning.   


4TH WALL STAGE COMPANY became a reality in 2010 and staged its first production in 2011. The mission of 4TH WALL STAGE COMPANY is to present live stage theatrical productions which are of enduring interest and which inspire, challenge, and entertain both artists and audiences. The goal is to attract audiences by providing roles to actors and actresses which are compelling and rewarding and help them to realize their full potential as artists as they explore ideas and emotions which speak to our common humanity. 4TH WALL STAGE COMPANY is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization and goals include outreach to other artists, cultural organizations, and educational institutions throughout Massachusetts while concentrating around home base of Central Massachusetts.


Mailing Address:

P.O. Box # 20034

Worcester MA 01602