Eric Collins first came to Sarasota when local director Bill Castellino called him down for an audition four years ago. Manhattan, N.Y.,-based Collins had worked with Castellino many times before.
Collins made his Sarasota debut in January 2008, at Florida Studio Theatre’s “Hula Hoop Sha-Boop,” a show celebrating sock hops and doo-wop. He’s been gracing FST’s stage every season since and has become a seasoned Sarasotan — he spends about four months a year here. Collins is a snowbird or, rather, a “showbird.”
You might have seen him in the productions of “That’s Life,” in 2009, “The Wanderers,” in 2010 and “That’s Life, Again,” in 2011.
“Everyone here at FST is really great,” Collins says. “It’s kind of like a second, winter family.”
This year, Collins is back for FST’s “Let’s Twist Again: with the Wanderers,” a show full of the 1950s and 1960s music that brought him here in the first place. Richard Hopkins and Jim Prosser developed the show, with assistance from Rebecca Hopkins.
By now, Collins is well-versed in this era, but not because he experienced it personally — he’s only 36 years old.
“Actually, FST was the first time I’d gotten into this pop ’50s and ’60s era of music,” he says. “Well, aside from a couple of productions of ‘Grease’ here and there, but that’s common with any musical-theater performer.”
He’s found his niche, at least in Sarasota.
“I really enjoy it,” he says of the style of music. “And the patrons down here, it’s their music and it’s something they really love. It’s always great when your audience loves what you’ve done.”
Collins is the only “wanderer” returning from the past company of “The Wanderers.” This time, fellow New Yorkers José Restrepo, Brett Rigby and Teddy Tenson will join him. But, there might be a few surprise reprises from the past “Wanderers,” says Collins.
“Each time you come in contact with new people, you have to find your own sound, (your) own blend,” Collins says about performing with a new group. “But I don’t think they’ll be disappointed with this product.”
And with eight-hour daily rehearsals, the cast is certainly putting in the work required.
“The first week is pretty intense,” Collins says of his arrival. “You have to build up some stamina … it can be vocally taxing until you get that rhythm going.”
He hasn’t even had a chance to go to some of his favorite places, such as Ceviche, Selva Grill and Café Amici, let alone the beach. Collins’ performance and rehearsal schedule doesn’t allow him to experience Sarasota’s entire arts-and-entertainment scene. But a few years ago, Sarasota Opera’s Artistic Director, Victor DeRenzi, invited him to the opera, and he found it to be a great experience.
“The art scene here can’t be beat — it’s definitely the cultural hub of Florida,” he says.
He calls the people here “culturally savvy,” and even though it’s slower-paced than New York, the city projects a big-city mentality.
This year, those culturally savvy patrons will have an extra month to see his show. His production has been extended because of the new Gompertz Theatre.
He’s amazed with how quickly the theater has gone up; when he left for New York in January, there was nothing done yet.
“The fact that a community can support a theater of this size and have it be as successful as it is — you can’t find many places like that,” he says.
Collins has nothing but nice things to say about the patrons and FST: “I’ve always been happy here,” he says.
“They always ask you back,” he says of Richard Hopkins’ loyalty to performers, “ … And I think the public kind of likes that. In a way, they start feeling like they really know someone.”
No matter how much “wandering” Collins does, this “showbird” will always fly back.
IF YOU GO
‘Let’s Twist Again: with the Wanderers’
When: Opens Oct. 17; runs through Jan. 13.
Where: Goldstein Cabaret
Cost: $19 to $36.
Info: Call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.
First performance: Age 7, as an orphan in “Scrooge”
First Broadway show he saw: “Cats”
Favorite performance he’s been in: As Tommy in “The Who’s Tommy”
Best production he’s seen: “Metamorphosis”
Role he’s always wanted to play: Tobias in “Sweeney Todd”
Favorite production: “Sweeney Todd”