By Michael Gioia
08 Nov 2013
Growing up in the Tampa, FL, area, Justin Matthew Sargent experienced a bit of bullying in middle school and high school — much like Peter Parker, the character that he plays six nights a week in Broadway's Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. However, Sargent knew that something special was in store for him and even imagined growing up to become a superhero — a birthmark on his wrist was in the same spot as Spider-Man's "web-shooters." After shedding over 100 lbs. and finding solace in community theatre, his path became clear, and Sargent earned his BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Central Florida. Shortly after his college graduation, he auditioned for the Broadway-bound Spider-Man, received a callback and — although he wasn't chosen as the musical's first superhero — landed his first Broadway credit (Rock of Ages). Rock of Ages led to a stint in the short-lived show Bonnie & Clyde before he returned to the 1980s-inspired musical to star as leading man Drew.
At Reeve Carney's final performance, the production announced that you would take over as the next Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Tell me about that moment, where he "passed on the torch."
Justin Matthew Sargent: It was emotional, especially for Reeve. You could see it on his face. He was saying goodbye to this show. It had to have been tough for him, and I felt a little strange. I felt like it was a moment for him to have and a moment for him to say thank you to the cast, the crew and the audience. I was very, very grateful that he wanted to share that moment with me and introduce me as the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It was just a really nice, honest moment.
Previously, the producers announced that the next leading man would be picked from a coast-to-coast open call, so what was it like when they told you that you'd be taking over full-time?
JMS: It was a dream come true, honestly. I auditioned for this show [before it came to Broadway] in Orlando, FL, when I was there. I just graduated from college, and I was working at a theme park as a singing waiter in a restaurant, and I went to a big open call that they had at this convention center. I was the 181st person, and I was the first person to sing a U2 song for the audition that day.
What song did you sing?
JMS: I sang, "[I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For] (Only to Be With You)." And, Justin Huff and Tiffany Canfield, who were there from Telsey [+ Company casting], auditioning said, "Yes! You were the first person to sing a U2 song. What number are you?" I said, "181." And, they [said], "You get a callback, no matter what," and then they let me continue. I actually did go through the whole big, open-call process, and then I flew to New York and went through all the final callbacks with [original director] Julie Taymor — this is back in the original conception of the project — so to get that phone call that I was actually going to take over for Reeve, it was kind of a culmination of a lot of things that had happened in the last [few] years. It was just a great feeling.
After that audition, you came to New York and went into Rock of Ages?
JMS: Absolutely, yes. After my audition with Julie Taymor and the creative team, [casting director] Bernie Telsey, [who also casts Rock of Ages], walked me out of the room and said, "Do you have any plans to move into the city? I think it's a good idea if you did." Five months later, I moved up here, and I think it was seven or eight months after that I was in Rock of Ages.
In between your latest stint in Rock of Ages and going into Spider-Man, you got married?
JMS: I did, yes! I got married on Aug. 25 to my fiancé and girlfriend of six-and-a-half years, Celine, and it's been an amazing year. She's not an actress. She has a degree in event management, and she travels all over the country, managing meetings and security logistics for large-scale events and conventions. We met… She came to see my college production of The Rocky Horror Show. I was Riff Raff, and it was kind of like an underground, grunge-rock version of the show. My costume was based on Edward Scissorhands. I had long hair that was all dyed black [and] purple. She came to the show dressed in a corset and fishnets and high heels. We locked eyes in the lobby after the show, and that was it! [Laughs.]