THE LEADING MEN: Justin Matthew Sargent and Jason Gotay, Spider-Man's Newest Broadway Superheroes

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08 Nov 2013

Sargent in Rock of Ages.
Photo by Paul Kolnik

What is it like to be Broadway's newest superhero? Was there any pressure taking over for Reeve after originally being announced as the show's next Alternate?
JMS: I never actually got to start performances as the [Peter Parker/Spider-Man] Alternate. I was originally hired to be the Alternate, and then the next week Reeve announced that he was leaving the show. It's a really long rehearsal process, so I was in rehearsals for about five-and-a-half weeks, and during that process, I guess they saw something in me [and thought], "This is the guy who is going to be replacing Reeve." Yeah, it was a lot of pressure. Reeve's performance in the show was extremely unique, and it just fits in the world so perfectly, and the last thing I wanted to do was replicate that. I wanted to do something that was unique to me, but still try to find a way for it to fit in the world. Of course, I'm playing the superhero, but at the same time, I've also got to play this really hurt and downtrodden kid, who is going through a tough time. I was able to draw a little bit on my own childhood. I was bullied a little bit as a kid — I was really heavy. I weighed 100 lbs. more than I do now, when I was in high school, so I've been able to draw on that to relate to Peter Parker.

Growing up, did you ever have a special attachment to comic books, comic-book characters or superheroes?
JMS: Actually, nobody believes me when I tell this story — and it's 100-percent true — but I've got a birthmark right on my wrist where [Spider-Man's] spider-webbing comes out of. And, as a kid, I always thought I was going to grow up to be Spider-Man. Spider-Man was my favorite superhero, and I was running around the house doing all the moves, and my parents — when I got the role — sent me a huge care package full of all my old toys and all my old comic books that I had when I was a kid. They framed a couple of them, so my dressing room is decorated with all my old childhood Spider-Man stuff.

Were you nervous going up in the air for the first time?
JMS: During the audition process for this show, they had you fly to see how comfortable you are, to see if you're going to get nervous about it, if you have a fear of heights — all that kind of stuff. I definitely had some practice before starting rehearsals, but yes, the very first time that you fly, it's like your first time doing anything… Nothing is going to come natural. Gosh, how do I explain it? It's like learning how to ride a bicycle for the first time… But, over time, you learn to trust what the rigging is doing. It just goes, and you've got to go with it. But, it is exhilarating. It's like riding a roller coaster every night. Singing upside down is not the most easy thing in the world, but it's fun to do. Again, that's on the list of things I never thought I'd be doing in my career — singing upside down on my bedroom wall [in] "Bouncing Off the Walls." I'm the only person in the show who gets to use the "twisty belt." It's this special harness that you can do full rotations and flips and all kinds of fun stuff in. That number is a lot of fun.

Sargent with Reeve Carney
photo by Jenny Anderson

Do you always feel safe when flying or doing the stunts that the role requires?
JMS: Absolutely. [The creative team's] main priority — their sole concern for this show — is safety. It's a massive show. There's a lot of large set pieces going in and out and up and down, and there are things lifting on the stage, things moving around all the time, and if you don't ever feel comfortable, one of the things that they stress — especially when it's new company members — is, "If you don't feel comfortable — if you feel like something's off, even if it's just a premonition you're having — put up your hands and make an X symbol with your arms." There are cameras all over the stage. They can see everybody at all times, and if you do that, they will stop the show. They say, "Do not worry about stopping the show. We don't discourage it at all. The priority is safety." There have been a couple times since I've been in the show that stunts haven't been able to happen — not because there were any real concerns of danger, but because somebody didn't feel comfortable. They want to make sure that everybody knows that you're not going to hurt the integrity of the show if you have to stop it.

Did you take part in the recent Web of Love benefit for Daniel Curry?
JMS: I did! Rebecca Faulkenberry and I did a little duet. We both played Drew and Sherrie in Rock of Ages, each for a year and a half, and we actually never got to do it together, so when they asked us to do a duet for this benefit, I said, "Let's just do 'High Enough' because we never got to do it on stage together, and I think it'd be fun." That was just an incredible night. Daniel was there, and he was just so moved, and we were all moved by him. This cast and this entire team is just so supportive and so loving.

What was your first brush with theatre? When did you first get bit by the theatre bug?
JMS: I was a new kid in a new town. I just moved. It was halfway through my eighth grade year — I moved to a completely new town, and I didn't know anybody, and coming into the second half of eighth grade is not easy because everyone has their friends already. Being a heavy kid, I was like the new fat kid in school, and my English teacher was involved in the community theatre, and she saw that I was a little bit introverted. She recommended to my parents and me that I join community theatre and give it a shot, so I did. I went out, and I auditioned for Oliver!, and I was cast as the Artful Dodger. Honestly, from the moment of that audition, and the moment that I got the phone call that they wanted me to be in it, [I thought], "Oh my God, this is awesome. I want to do this!" That show took place the summer before my freshman year of high school, so from then until I graduated high school, I had done over 30 productions with the community theatre and with my high school. It was never a question. I just knew I wanted to do it, and I knew that there was nothing else I'd rather do.


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