Jim Sorensen chooses Tampa Bay

The natural-born leading man is back for freeFall's Cabaret.

click to enlarge SNAP INTO THIS SLIM JIM: With several high-profile roles in a short time, Jim Sorensen will star in freeFall’s Cabaret this summer and 1776 at Sarasota’s Asolo Rep. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JIM SORENSEN
SNAP INTO THIS SLIM JIM: With several high-profile roles in a short time, Jim Sorensen will star in freeFall’s Cabaret this summer and 1776 at Sarasota’s Asolo Rep.

When I talked with Jim Sorensen, he was just days away from marrying Natalie Symons — the playwright and actress whom he met only 11 months ago, and with whom he appeared in Becky Shaw.

The marriage caps off an annus mirabilis for the 39-year-old actor and freeFall managing director. Within the last 12 months, he’s turned in superb work in Stageworks’ The Blue Room, American Stage’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, and freeFall’s Becky. And he’s gone from unknown to star in what seems like 60 seconds — though it was really the result of 20 years and more of preparation. Tall (6-foot-4) and uncomplicatedly handsome, willing to play everything from a sophisticated lady’s man to a terminally clueless nerd, Sorensen is one of the main reasons local theater has been so satisfying recently. And he’s already priming to play a major role in the Kander/Ebb Cabaret, opening at freeFall on June 21. He’ll be easy to spot — just look for the guy who seems to have been born on the set.

So who is he and how did he get to Tampa Bay? Sitting opposite me on the stage of the studio theater at freeFall, Sorensen told me that he moved here after Eric Davis, a close friend since college in Nevada, asked him to leave New York and become the then new theater’s managing director. Before that, he’d lived and worked all over the country, from California to Carolina, playing in 70 or more shows (occasionally as the lead), singing in musicals, speaking blank verse in Shakespeare, traveling wherever the jobs took him. Maybe starting out as an Air Force brat inspired an itinerant life; he grew up in Washington State, North Dakota and Nevada, and attended “three different grade schools, just one middle school, three different high schools.” He threw himself into acting at the University of Nevada, left after graduation to perform from coast to coast (including a five-summer stint running a dinner theater in Alaska), and paid for his off-days in New York by managing the bars at Shubert-owned Broadway theaters. While he was still in New York, Davis called him to say that freeFall was in the planning stages, and if it materialized, would Sorensen come out to be on the team? The actor said, “Absolutely” — and at the end of 2009 made the move.

He doesn’t miss the grind of being an actor in New York. “What I found in New York was that my job as an actor … was to look for a job. And that’s kind of a crappy job, to be honest. … I would audition for three months solid, and then get a six-week gig. And then I would go and have a great time while I was on my gig and come back and kind of have to start the ball rolling again.” Furthermore, most of the jobs he was getting in New York were for shows appearing in the regions — for example, the opportunity to start a national tour of Mamma Mia in Canada in midwinter. It hardly seemed attractive “when I could be coming down here and having a really strong hand in saying how a theater is running.” And he wasn’t too long in the Bay area before he was acting again, too, though his first local job wasn’t at freeFall but at the Show Palace in Hudson, in Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: The Neil Sedaka Musical (“a cheesy, silly show which actually ended up having a lot of heart to it”). More substantial jobs followed, and after Cabaret, Sorensen will appear in the musical 1776, at Sarasota’s Asolo Rep — a 45-minute drive that hardly daunts this veteran wanderer.

As to Davis’ feeling about his managing director’s continued acting, Sorensen said he’s supportive: “He knows, I mean, he and I grew up in theater as actors together, and he knows that this is my first love.” Still, he said, “I need to make sure that freeFall is my priority: this is what I do for a living.” Acting, no matter how important, is accomplished during “free time.”

New York’s loss (and Alaska’s and California’s and North Carolina’s) is the Bay area’s gain. But can we hope to keep hold on this most peripatetic of actors? Well, it seems that Sorensen and his bride-to-be have been working on how they can afford a comfortable home in the area. You know something? This could work out for everyone.

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