Two of the highest-profile, most-coveted and most-exciting lead roles for a young (under 30) male performer in Broadway musicals today are the characters Drew Boley in Rock of Ages and Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.
And only one young man has been chosen to play both of these celebrated roles: Justin Matthew Sargent.
Yup, the same Justin Sargent who lived in Trinity with his mom and dad, Lyn and Jim, graduated from Mitchell High School and made his stage debut at Richey Suncoast Theatre, when, at the age of 14, he played the Artful Dodger in Oliver! in 1999.
On Sept. 16, Justin took over the role of Spider-Man from Reeve Carney, who originated the role three years ago and is leaving to perform in the new Showtime series Penny Dreadful. (You can see Carney officially turn the role over to Justin at the end of his last performance on Sept. 15 on YouTube).
Justin had left the cast of the Tony Award-winning Rock of Ages in late July after playing Drew for 16 months. He took time off to get married, then joined the cast of Spider-Man as an alternate to the star, playing the role on a week to week basis.
"We looked for our new lead in L.A. and New York," producers Michael Cohl and Jere Harris told Playbill.com. "During Justin's rehearsals as the alternate Peter Parker/Spider-Man, we realized this is the guy to take over for Reeve. He is one of Broadway's great rockers."
Cohl added: "Very few shows on Broadway require their leads to have a powerful rock voice. Justin proved his remarkable talent, not to mention work ethic, in Rock of Ages, and we know he's a perfect fit for Spider-Man."
Indeed, it was not just Justin's talent and personality, but also his dedication and work ethic that won him so many friends (and roles) when he played at RST and Stage West Community Playhouse (John Smith in Run for Your Wife).
Rock of Ages featured 1980s songs made famous by Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar and Journey. Spider-Man has music written by 22-time Grammy Award winners, U2's Bono and The Edge.
It got off to a rough start when it first opened, but has been re-imagined and has become one of Broadway's hottest (and most expensive) tickets. Audiences love it — it set a box office record, doing $2.9 million in one week — and go crazy when Spider-Man soars out over the audience. (That part sort of worries me, as five supporting and ensemble cast members have been seriously injured during the aerial acrobatics. Be careful, Justin!)
After Mitchell High, Justin graduated from the University of Central Florida, played several Florida professional theaters and Sea World, then headed for NYC. He was in the original cast of the short-lived musical Bonnie and Clyde (swing and understudy for Clyde Barrow), then joined the cast of Rock of Ages, where he worked his way up to the lead.
Interestingly, his RST stage debut was sort of a fluke.
His mom was advertising manager at the Times back then and, as such, was involved in a lot of local organizations, one of which was Richey Suncoast. She frequently attended auditions there, and one evening, Justin decided to tag along. He later told me that as he watched the people trying out for the show, he thought it looked like fun.
On a whim, he signed up to audition. He'd never had a lesson in singing, dancing or acting — but he simply blew away director Rick Bronson, who recognized extraordinary talent when he saw it. Justin had an easygoing, confident, endearing manner that simply filled the theater. He was a quick study; to watch him, you'd have thought he'd been taking professional training for years.
And he loved every minute of it, vowing that acting would be his life's work.
Here's hoping he follows his Spidey predecessor into television and movies so we can all see his extraordinary performances without having to journey to the Big Apple and spring for one of those $325 tickets.