Northeastern eighth-grader in touring company for Broadway musical
Seth Erdley did not return to Northeastern School District this fall for eighth grade.
Instead, the 13-year-old from East Manchester Township has been in New York City rehearsing for the national touring company production of "Finding Neverland," a Broadway musical that follows writer J.M. Barrie as he creates the story of Peter Pan.
"I couldn’t believe it was really happening," said Seth's mother, Suzanna Erdley, when she heard he landed the role.
After Erdley saw the opportunity pop up on Facebook, her son sent in an audition tape, and a couple of callbacks later, he got the news.
Barrie's story is inspired by four young brothers: Jack, George, Michael and Peter.
Seth, along with five other boys, will trade off playing the three eldest boys, George, Peter and Jack, depending on the night of the tour.
John Marrs, theater director at Northeastern High School, said Seth's accomplishment is akin to an athlete making it into the NFL.
“This, for an actor, it as big as it gets! ... And we couldn't be more proud of him!” he wrote in an email news release.
A passion by chance: Seth's role might have never come to be had he not gone to his first audition for "School of Rock" in 2016 at the Belmont Theatre in Spring Garden Township.
"He was always interested in everything," his mother said, and had usually committed to a season of baseball or golf before he could audition for shows.
But performing as Zack Mooneyham in "School of Rock" gave him a chance to play guitar on stage — an instrument he'd wanted to learn since he was 2 and played since age 9 — and it just so happened he wasn't signed up for baseball yet that season.
He would come out of rehearsal so late, Erdley said, but there was something different about him — he was so energized.
"We knew that he had truly found his passion," she said.
"I just can't say enough about his ability, his focus and his attitude," said Belmont executive director Lyn Bergdoll, who called Seth extremely professional and said his ability to always stay in character was "very exceptional" for his age.
For the next two years, Seth performed nonstop, including the title role in a Northeastern production of "Oliver!"
"We knew we had a ringer in Seth for that role," Marrs said.
"His expressions, the way he delivers his lines, the way he looks at the other characters — it’s like he has such a depth of understanding for what’s going on in the storylines," he said. "I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who has quite that finesse."
Surreal: Seth and his mother both have one word for the "Finding Neverland" experience: surreal.
"It’s everything that I thought it would be like and more, " Seth said. "It's amazing — I didn’t know how cool it was going to be."
Every day when they took the subway from their hotel in Queens to the West 55th Street Carroll studios, they crossed Broadway, and Erdley just told him to pause and take it in — to enjoy every moment.
They arrived the day after Labor Day and were in the Big Apple through Sept. 20 before relocating to Elmira, New York, to prepare for preview shows at the Clemens Center.
Seth will be able to continue schooling through Northeastern with a cyber course and the help of a private tutor, who also watches the kids backstage.
"The two most challenging things are probably being away from family and rehearsal hours," Seth said, but he and Erdley call home to his father and siblings Emma, 15, and Ethan, 9, every night and "practically live through FaceTime."
His mother will continue to travel with him on tour — occasionally trading off with his father and other family members.
Marrs said a couple of his former students have made it in New York, but it's especially exciting to see it happen for someone so young.
"Is he going to come back to Northeastern?" he joked.
The national tour opens at Hershey Theatre for an Oct. 2-7 stint, and students and staff from Northeastern are planning to support Seth at the Family Night on Broadway show at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3.
"He was always so supportive of everyone, trying to be everyone’s friend," said Northeastern senior Maddi Miller, who performed with Seth in "School of Rock" and "Oliver!"
She said a group of about 45 students are hoping to get tickets to see him on Wednesday, Oct. 3., and NHS Dramatics is arranging car pools and financial assistance as needed.
Tickets for the Hershey performances start at $25. For tickets, go to www.hersheyentertainment.com/hershey-theatre.
Those who miss Seth at Hershey can catch him later in the tour. For a full schedule, visit findingneverlandthemusical.com.