Review: “The Secret Files of Nellie Bly” at Fireside Mystery Theatre

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

I’ve reviewed a wide and diverse range of shows for OnStage Blog, including on a few rare occasions, staged readings. However, I’m quite positive that I have never reviewed a reader’s theatre podcast, prior to being invited to review the latest live recorded show of Fireside Mystery Theatre, one of the most popular theatre podcasts out there today. Their latest production – a variety show entitled The Secret Files of Nellie Bly about the late-19th-century writer – proved to be quite an introduction to what I found to be a very intriguing project.

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As the title suggests, the show focuses on the life and times of a unique historical figure: Nellie Bly, a pioneering journalist who enjoyed much success as a ground-breaking reporter – including for stories that involved reporting from a mental institution and for going around the world in 72 days – during a time before women even had the right to vote. Many of these real-life stories are wonderfully adapted for the show by writers Silbin Sandovar and Courtenay Gillean Cholovich – with musical interludes playing in-between each story – and provide unique insight and historical knowledge of a fascinating figure. I myself learned quite a bit from these stories, as I watched them unfold in reader’s theatre format while being recorded for the rest of the world. I imagine they might be of particular interest to those reading this that also have a passion for history and for learning.

The actors in the show – Ali Silva, Eirik Davey-Gislason, Kacie LaForest, Alain LaForest, David Linton, Mary Murphy and Gustavo Rodriguez – all prove to be superb voice actors, practically becoming the characters for what is ultimately an audio-oriented production, for all intents and purposes. In between various segments, Martina DaSilva entertains audiences with some musical performances set to piano, with numbers such as “Nelly Bly” and “Put That Knife Away, Nelly” which keep with the overall theme of the show. I also liked the humorous poem that is read toward the end of the show, which appeared to be part of the podcast’s regular programming.

I will admit, as someone who researched radio theatre as part of his broader studies of theatre history in college, I had believed that this sort of creative medium had faded with the rise of television in the mid-20th century. However, Fireside Mystery Theatre seems to be proving me to be wrong, not just with its apparent popularity (as the creators proudly proclaimed at the reading, the podcast just recently reached 2 million downloads), but also with the quality of the dramatic work in this podcast, which shows us a potential glimpse of the future, in terms of how theatre can be delivered to the masses beyond the live experience. This show I had the pleasure of seeing was reminiscent of a certain type of old-school dramatic storytelling that once was far more prominent, and the actors did a very fine job at bringing these stories to life.

Given how this show apparently leaned more on history than some of their others, I’d be interested to see some of their other live shows, so as to compare how they may differ from this one, in person. Until then, though, this show and past ones are currently available to listen to on our phones and computers, even if I’d also recommend checking out their future live shows, as nothing beats seeing a show in-person.

 For more information on Fireside Mystery Theatre’s future projects, please visit www.firesidemysterytheatre.com.