Cole Edelstein has too many interests to stick to one thing. As a 14-year-old, he happened to watch The Wave, a subtitled Norwegian film, with his parents, and to his surprise he became obsessed with learning the language. That kicked off a three-year odyssey to master Norwegian, along with Swedish, Danish, German and French. Now 18, Cole spent untold hours practicing vocabulary using the free Duolingo app on his phone. And he was already studying Spanish at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School when all things Norwegian—music, food, podcasts—captivated him. “I know, it’s so random,” he says. “Still, to this day, I’ve never even met a Norwegian.”
The language pile-on came after Cole debuted on Broadway in Matilda at age 12. The Chevy Chase resident lived in New York City during his 19-month run and decided the stage would be his future career. His mom was with him most of the time (the theater filled in when his parents couldn’t be there, along with child guardians hired by the family), and he went to school with other young actors. As a swing performer, he covered three roles, a more difficult feat than a single part, and his time onstage earned him membership in Actors’ Equity, which provides a path to Broadway auditions.
During the pandemic, he’s been devoting his nonschool hours to voice and dance lessons on FaceTime. “I love the feeling of telling stories,” says Cole, a senior. “You get the strongest emotion for a character who isn’t even real. It’s very overwhelming to me.” When he sang in a Cabaret for a Cause event in New York, Cole chose the musically complex song “Sarah Brown Eyes” because he felt the lyrics—from Ragtime, his favorite musical—tell a haunting story of loss.
Cole says he seeks out new experiences not in a résumé-building way, but because one passion leads to another. Musical theater pushed him into learning piano, ballet, hip-hop, guitar and tap dancing. Until voice lessons interfered, he ran varsity track. With a roster of AP classes and a penchant for solving complex math problems with friends, he still finds time to write science fiction stories and wants to delve into screenplays with futuristic plots.
Neither Cole’s father, Darryl, who works in commercial real estate and finance, nor his mother, Lynne, a tax attorney-turned-photographer and writing coach, has any experience in the theater. His brothers, Max, 21, and Garrett, 14, are soccer, tech and science enthusiasts. Cole, who says he was “very lazy” as a young boy, was looking for some activity “because all I did was eat and watch TV. ”
Friends introduced him to community theater when he was 8, and he quickly became enchanted with the camaraderie and joy of performing. Lessons at Adventure Theatre’s Musical Theatre Camp in Rockville followed, as did performances with Young Artists of America at the Kennedy Center, which required him to audition. He’s been acting regularly since fifth grade, winning parts at Ford’s Theatre, Kensington Arts Theatre and Woolly Mammoth, and appearing in four school musicals. “He played [the role of] Hero to great effect,” says William Toscano, media services instructor at B-CC. He directed Cole in B-CC’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum during his freshman year. “Comedy, drama, silliness, he can do it all.”
At 13, Cole won representation by A3 Artists Agency, a New York talent agency, for theater and film projects. He has performed in off-Broadway productions and sung at Feinstein’s/54 Below, a top New York City cabaret venue. When he isn’t in a show, he’s kept up his vocal form by singing in charity cabarets at the Friars Club in New York City, and locally with Community Theatre Thrives. His portrayal of the Artful Dodger in Oliver! at the Kensington Arts Theatre won him a BroadwayWorld nomination and an outstanding performance award by DC Metro Theater Arts.
Learning to cope with the roller coaster of the entertainment world has been tough. On Broadway, hundreds of actors audition for some parts. “As a little kid, it’s easier to get roles. Now, you audition and audition and face a lot of rejection. You have to not take it personally.” Adjusting to the change in his clear soprano voice when he hit puberty also threw him. “It takes years for your voice to finally settle,” he says, describing himself as now in the tenor/baritone range. “It freaked me out not to be able to handle songs I knew so well. I won’t be fully there until my early 20s.”
Cole is leaning toward a double major in theater and physics next year at Northwestern University, where he won early acceptance. In the meantime, he’s staying occupied with Zoom classes and cracking down on ballet practice, which he finds difficult but necessary for stage work. He’s been cast as Father in Ragtime by Ovations Theatre in Rockville, but the pandemic has pushed back the show’s opening. “It’s so frustrating. You can sort of rehearse via Zoom, but it’s not the same,” he says. “Everyone’s hoping for this summer, but who knows?”