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Trinity boy lands role in national tour of 'Les Miserables'

Brad Colley plugged the cassette tape into his Sony Walkman and set out to mow the lawn. His girlfriend, Robbie Lynn, had already considered he might be The One, but now she was feeling even better about things.

The music choice: Les Miserables.

"A man who loves Broadway,'' she thought. "Perfect.''

Eighteen years of marriage and two sons later, they have seen the blockbuster musical several times and figured to see it again during its run in Tampa, less than an hour from their home in Trinity.

But as the cast of the national tour took the stage last Sunday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, the Colley family checked into the Marriott Marquis in the heart of New York City's theater district.

They had pizza plans, but 10-year-old Joshua passed. His first airplane ride and the taxi trip into Manhattan had left him three shades of green.

He recovered nicely.

The next morning, Joshua, a fourth-grader in Audrey Long's class at Longleaf Elementary School, found himself sitting in a hallway with six other boys. They represented a short list of hundreds of applicants seeking a key part in the next round of the Les Miserables 25th anniversary U.S. tour.

This had all happened so fast. Joshua's parents had only recently learned of the auditions and Robbie Lynn had dashed off a quick letter and video. "It was one take with a flip (camera),'' she said.

And it wasn't like Joshua had all that much experience. His resume was, as they say in the theater, "light.'' Jim Wanker, the music teacher at Longleaf, had cast Joshua in a student play last summer and then a solo part in the annual Christmas show. About that same time, Joshua landed the role of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol at the freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg.

At 9 years old, this boy with dark brown hair and big brown eyes demonstrated a professionalism beyond his years. He made chorus practice every morning at 8:30, then classes. His parents drove him to St. Petersburg for rehearsals and returned home at 11:30 p.m. The next morning, he jumped out of bed eager to do it all over again.

"He never complained,'' said his dad. "He not only showed talent, but also passion.''

Twenty-two performances as Tiny Tim earned him raves and gained him confidence. Still, as the family sat in that New York studio watching Joshua assume the identity of Gavroche, a street urchin desperate to join in a student uprising in post-revolution France, they really didn't expect what happened next.

An hour after leaving the auditions, Brad and Robbie Lynn prepared for the flight home. Joshua and his twin brother, Cameron, ran around the hotel acting like 10-year-olds. They marveled at their first sight of snow, albeit a dusting.

Brad's cell phone rang.

They had expected it might take a few weeks to hear from the producers, but now one was on the phone saying how much they loved Joshua. The exact words, his father recalled: "Joshua blew us away.'' A contract would be forthcoming, along with more logistics. The first performance: March 13 at the Boston Opera House; the last Aug. 5 in San Francisco.

The family headed home. Brad and Robbie Lynn hesitated to share the news. Until a contract was in hand, they didn't want to jinx anything.

But come Monday morning, Joshua went to school and told Mr. Wanker. The news spread like wildfire. Students and teachers offered congratulations. A cafeteria worker said, "When you're rich and famous, I can say I fed that boy.''

At home a few blocks from the school, Joshua and Cameron played like always. They rode bikes and skated and watched an X-Men movie. Their parents considered the reality of six months on the road and how to accomplish their No. 1 goal: keeping the family together, healthy and happy.

Joshua will have to join a union. His pay, which has not been determined, will go into a college fund.

• • •

In retrospect, this probably shouldn't have come as a big surprise. As a student at Pinellas Park High School, Robbie Lynn's beauty and matching voice landed her several roles in productions at the old Showboat Dinner Theater and other local venues. She played Jasmine in Aladdin shows at Disney World.

In 1999, the Colleys created Play 'N Around, producing and acting in educational musicals for children in schools and other venues throughout the Tampa Bay area. They like to say their boys were "born on stage,'' which is almost true. Robbie Lynn was eight months pregnant with the twins as she performed The Nutcracker.

"The boys have seen all our rehearsals and performances since they were born,'' Brad said. "They fell in love with performing, and they both have great voices.''

Cameron is particularly strong at comedy and ventriloquism. Asked how he felt about his brother landing this big part, he said, "I'm definitely jealous.'' But then he quickly added, "And proud.''

He watched as Joshua sang one of the most stirring of all the songs in Les Miserables. It comes as his character, Gavroche, is shot while trying to help the rebels. Joshua delivered with a passion and anguish that wouldn't seem possible from a 10-year-old and when it was over gave a gap-toothed smile and blurted, "And then he dies!''

The Colleys have an employee who will run their business while they are on the road. "We'll be connected,'' Brad says, "and everything will be fine. This is such a wonderful opportunity for Joshua, but also for the entire family.''

His wife went a step further, borrowing from arguably the most famous of all songs from Les Miserables: "We're dreaming the dream.''

Trinity boy lands role in national tour of 'Les Miserables' 02/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 18, 2012 12:33pm]
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