Longtime local theatergoers will likely remember a cute, chubby boy who played the Artful Dodger in Richey Suncoast Theatre's production of Oliver! in 1999.
It was Justin Sargent, then 14, and he had tagged along to auditions with his parents, Lynn and Jim, who were active volunteers at the New Port Richey community theater.
On a whim, Justin decided to try out for a part, never mind that he had never done any acting or singing or dancing before.
And he not only landed a plum role, that fateful evening changed his life forever. He decided to become an actor.
And just like a storybook, come September, Justin will make his debut on Broadway, joining the cast of the production of Rock of Ages, a musical built around the classic hits of the 1980s by Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar and many others. He'll be in the ensemble and serve as understudy to the lead character.
Justin was originally cast for the national touring company, but was bumped up to Broadway and is in rehearsals right now, according to the University of Central Florida student newspaper.
Between Oliver! and Rock, he's been very busy, graduating from UCF in 2008 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theatre, followed by stints at the Seaside Music Theatre, Alhambra Dinner Theatre, Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando Repertory Theatre and Universal Studios, Orlando.
Before all that, he did the lead role in the Stage West Community Playhouse production of Run for Your Wife, at age 17 playing a hilarious middle-aged cab driver, then later tackled the difficult role of the sniveling son, Leo Hubbard, in Lillian Hellman's drama Little Foxes, at Richey Suncoast, which earned him a Lary nomination for best actor in the Tampa Bay area. (I remember writing that he had "raw talent just waiting to be tapped.")
One other thing about Justin: That chubby little boy in Oliver! has turned into a tall, slender, drop-dead gorgeous man. Look for big things — and I mean very big things — from this talented actor/singer/dancer.
Can't get enough
For those, like me, who simply can't get enough of actor/singer/comic Matthew McGee (he's currently starring in Boogie Wonderland at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre and, before that, co-starred in Red, White and Tuna), be aware that he's co-starring in the Obie-winning comedy The Mystery of Irma Vep from Sept. 15 through Oct. 10 at the new American Stage in St. Petersburg.
Similar to Tuna, Irma Vep is two actors playing a dozen roles: English newlyweds, a mysterious maid, a sympathetic werewolf, a vampire and an Egyptian princess brought to life when her tomb is opened.
American Stage audiences and executives adore McGee, the former because he is one of the best and most entertaining performers to ever hit the boards, the latter because they know he can draw audiences like roses draw big honeybees.
Interestingly, McGee is the only actor whose photo appears in the American Stage sales brochure announcing upcoming shows. The pooh-bahs there apparently think that just the sight of his face makes the box office phones ring, just as it does at the Show Palace, where he's also artistic director.
For times and tickets, call (727) 823-7529.
Third time the charm
The Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center recently released its very impressive and eclectic programs for the 2010-11 season: musicals, operas, singers, dancers and variety shows of all kinds, and at all prices.
One on the list is a "don't miss" for me and many others. It's the third installment of Susan Marie Frontczak's one-woman shows about Eleanor Roosevelt. The first was in April 2009 and gave an overall look at the phenomenal first lady's life. The second was in January and was set in 1942, as World War II absorbed everyone's thoughts.
The one coming at 2 p.m. Feb. 20 is Eleanor Roosevelt Part III: Hammering Out Human Rights, which recounts the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, called a Magna Carta for humankind.
In part one of the three-part show, Frontczak uses cosmetics, period clothing and a spot-on recreation of Mrs. Roosevelt's voice to "become" Mrs. Roosevelt in the flesh and reminisce about her life with her husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In part two, she takes questions from the audience, still in character, answering the queries as though she were Mrs. Roosevelt herself. In part three, Frontczak removes the wig and other makeup to become her own self, a Roosevelt scholar, and answer questions as though the audience were her university students.
Watching the whole performance is absolutely mesmerizing, especially for those of us who love and revere Mrs. Roosevelt and hold her up as the gold standard for humanity.
Tickets are $16 for nonmembers, $14 for members and $12 for students. Call (727) 942-5605.
By the way, Frontczak's very proud mom, Lenore Frontczak, lives in Port Richey.