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Former actor from north Suncoast lands Broadway lead

It was Aug. 21, 2010, when I wrote this line about Mitchell High School grad and former Richey Suncoast Theatre and Stage West Community Playhouse actor Justin Matthew Sargent: "Look for big things — and I mean very big things — from this talented actor/singer/dancer."

But never did I dream that those "big things" would happen so soon. Google Sargent's name today and you'll find him in the headlines of Playbill.com, Theatre Opinion, News and Information and several other online publications.

That's because young Sargent just landed the lead role of Broadway's smash hit Rock of Ages, winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2009. The show is built around the rock hits of the 1980s (Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Journey) to tell a love story set in Los Angeles. Among the show's songs are Don't Stop Believin', I Wanna Know What Love Is, Here I Go Again and the list goes on and on.

The character of Drew is described as a "city boy born and raised in South Detroit" — about as far as you can get from the upscale community of Trinity in south Pasco County, where Justin and his family lived until 2003 (his parents are in Kentucky now).

I first got to know Justin when his mom Lyn came on board as ad director at the Pasco Times in the 1990s. Lyn and husband Jim were active volunteers at Richey Suncoast, and Justin tagged along to an audition one night in 1999, when he was 14. On a whim, Justin — then a cute and chubby little kid — decided to try out for a role. He was cast as the wily Artful Dodger in Oliver!, never mind that he'd never acted, danced or sung on a stage before.

One look at him, and you could tell he just had "it," whatever "it" is. Charm? Cheekiness? Confidence? Whatever, Justin decided right then that he would have a life on the stage.

He went to the University of Central Florida (class of 2008) and was accepted into the elite theater program there. After graduating, he went on to act in theaters around Florida and at Sea World, then went to the Big Apple to try his luck there.

A couple of other things: he grew tall, slender, and eye-rollingly handsome, too. But he still has that adorable, totally disarming grin.

Justin was cast as understudy for the actor playing Drew a year and a half ago, but got an offer for a bigger role in the new musical Bonnie and Clyde. He opted for that, but B & C closed in December, so he was available again when the actor playing Drew moved on this month, and Rock of Ages grabbed him.

This is Justin's first lead role on Broadway, and, as far as I can tell, he's the first actor from Pasco County to land such a plum.

So, if you're in New York City, drop by the Helen Hayes Theatre to see the local boy doing good. SAVE THESE DATES

Richey Suncoast Theatre's next production, the musical Mame, doesn't open until May 10, but that doesn't mean that the theater is dark by any means.

The theater has five big shows lined up for April, starting with the Frank Parsons Big Band's "Easter Parade Pageant" at 2 p.m. on April 11, with tickets going for $11.

Then the annual high school talent show and scholarship fundraiser, Ticket To Broadway, will be at 8 p.m. April 14 and 2:30 p.m. April 15, with tickets at $15.

One of my favorite annual events, The Black Maria (pronounced muh-RYE-uh) Film Festival will be at 7 p.m. April 20. For just $6, you get a look at some of the world's best and most entertaining short films.

The Doo Wop show starring The Saints will be at 8 p.m. April 21 and 2:30 p.m. April 22, with tickets at $17.

And at 7:30 p.m. April 28, a whole lineup of singers and musicians will present A Salute to Our Veterans, with proceeds going to homeless veterans. Tickets are $17 adults, $8 ages 11 and younger.

For tickets to any or all of these shows, call (727) 842-6777. The theater is at 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey.

Former actor from north Suncoast lands Broadway lead 03/30/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 30, 2012 9:55pm]

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