A year ago, Joshua Colley took the stage with his fellow Longleaf Elementary School classmates for the annual Christmas concert. The talented dark-eyed 10-year-old had never ventured more than two hours from his home in Trinity.
When I caught up with him by phone on Monday, he was in the Kansas City airport, looking at a three-hour weather delay before heading to Washington, D.C. Typically, Joshua put on a happy face.
"I'm playing cards with my brother and friends,'' he said. "Spit and Bologna Sandwich. We're having a great time.''
His dad, Brad Colley, didn't necessarily share his son's enthusiasm. He had just forked out six bucks for a bag of popcorn and the dining options beyond security weren't exactly Wolfgang Puck.
"We spend a lot of time in airports,'' he said.
Since March, the Colley family — Brad and his wife, Robbie Lynn, and their twin sons Joshua and Cameron — have flown in and out of 20 U.S. cities, coast to coast. They experienced a minor earthquake in San Francisco, gasped at the beauty of the Boston Opera House, met with a talent agent in Beverly Hills. When asked about his favorite venue, this is what Joshua said:
"Greenville, South Carolina. It was homey and small. We got to explore.''
In those 20 cities, Joshua earned rave reviews for his portrayal of Gavroche with the national tour of Les Miserables. He has averaged six performances a week. And while he originally signed up for only six months, the producers were so impressed they asked him to extend through the end of the year. Now they want him to finish the tour, which means another seven months.
Joshua thinks this is all very cool. Mom and Dad are so proud of him, but they hadn't really figured on living out of a suitcase and hotel rooms for so long. They plan to return home after Christmas long enough to regroup and reconnect with their business, Play 'N Around, which has continued performing educational musicals for schoolchildren in the Tampa Bay area.
While Brad, Robbie Lynn and Cameron are in Trinity, Joshua will stay with one of the tour moms. "We won't worry about him,'' his dad said, "because the whole Les Mis cast is like family. And we'll be back together soon. It has always been our priority to keep the family together. Any sacrifices we've made have been well worth it. This has been the adventure of a lifetime.''
It has also earned young Joshua a pretty hefty college fund. The production company increased his pay and picked up more of the family's expenses after extending his contract.
What about school, you ask? The company provides a tutor for Joshua, who takes fifth-grade classes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day before he heads to the three-hour show. The tutor also schedules field trips in every city, so the children in the cast have been to major museums and landmarks. In Washington, D.C., the next three weeks, the Colleys will walk past the White House every day on their way to the National Theater, which has been in operation since 1835 and has entertained every president since Andrew Jackson. Joshua is excited about touring the White House and jokes about getting to meet President Barack Obama, but on the phone he seemed even more pumped about the Spy Museum.
His parents are homeschooling Cameron, who has made some connections of his own during the tour. While in Los Angeles the Colleys met with representatives of the well-known Paradigm talent agency, which immediately signed both boys.
"We went with the intention of introducing Joshua and they started calling reps at Disney because they thought Cameron would be perfect for a movie based on a ventriloquist,'' Brad said. "He was shocked. He hasn't been jealous of his brother's attention during any of this, but he said, 'Wow, they're interested in me!' "
It seems certain both boys will have plenty of options in the future. Joshua hopes to earn a spot in the Broadway production of Mary Poppins. But in the meantime, he's enjoying celebrity status.
"The cast gets treated like rock stars,'' his dad said, "and Joshua is right there signing autographs. It still seems like a dream. And I can tell you every time he sings on that big stage with that fantastic cast, his mom still cries. We are so proud.''