Writer Brett McCaig and composer Anthony Bastianon unable to contain their glee as the media rush to ask them about their musical
Earlier today, an excessive amount of media personalities descended on the Second City Training Center in Toronto, Canada, to watch the auditions for Rob Ford: The Musical. In case you’re not already tired out by the Ford fatigue that has consumed the city and much of the English-speaking world, this fanciful production will reimagine the crack-smoking mayor's rise to notoriety as a comedic song-and-dance show set to hit the stage this September.
The plot of Rob Ford: The Musical goes like this: Rob is struck in the face with a TV camera (just like the time he was actually struck in the face by a CBC camera) and is knocked unconscious. From there he enters a dreamy, alternate reality where he's shown the error of his ways by a politically incorrect character named Transgression, who, as the writer and composer of the musical put it, is a “tranny.”
Now, while the jury may be out regarding whether or not the word tranny is offensive (and obviously the producers of this play don’t have a problem with it, in true Rob Ford spirit), this character has already garnered some negative attention. As if to balance the controversial choice of casting Trangression, the play will also include a song called “It’s Good to Be Gay!” that will appear alongside a bit called “Ford Nation, Fuck You.”
It's too early to tell whether Transgression will be a mature, positive depection of transsexuals, but so far all signs point to no.
Anthony Bastianon, the show’s composer, told the assembled cameras that his team was pumped about “showing different sides of the whole story,” adding that he’s “looking forward to Ford Nation coming to see the show.” He also hopes that RoFo himself will come and give a speech opening night, which would provide the show with another overblown media circus through which they can promote their well-timed musical.
Given that literally anything could happen between now and the time this play hits the stage, Anthony and the musical’s writer, Brett McCaig, have left the final pages of the script blank until the world can see what will happen to Rob Ford. Either that, or they just haven't finished writing it.
Whether or not the script actually exists is irrelevant, because the universe rarely provides an opportunity to interview a bunch of Rob Ford look-alikes. That's why I took some time to get to know a few of the actors hoping to grab their 15 minutes of local musical fame.
The first audition I got to see was put on by Geoff “the Giant” Stone, who came all the way from Ottawa, Ontario, to try out. Geoff sang a somewhat catchy song called “Drunken Stupors,” which received scattered woo-hoos from the media. When asked about the song later, Geoff said, "It practically wrote itself. It flowed out of me like a waterfall.”
He then spent the better part of an hour singing the song on command for the various television stations in attendance. I would have recorded it if I thought you needed to hear it.
After that, I spoke to Matthew Garlic, a construction worker and amateur actor who came to Toronto from Vancouver simply to try out for this musical (but didn’t seem to think he needed to dress up like Rob Ford to sway the judges). According to Matthew, he is often mistaken for Rob Ford, John Candy, and Chris Farley—which is why he asked to pose in front of a photo of the late, great Trains, Planes, & Automobiles star.
Matthew says he’s a big fan of “footage of Rob Ford falling down drunk in his Argos jersey,” adding that he would definitely vote for Rob if he happened to live in Toronto.
“He balances the budget… he seems to have a following, too. At least we know he’s corrupt, whereas every other politician is but says they’re not… Other politicians have the same ‘creature of the night’ habits, but it just hasn’t come out yet.”
OK, Mr. Garlic. Good point.
The most notable look-alike of the bunch was this guy Neil Sarel, a.k.a. Slurpy. You may remember Slurpy from this National Post story, which quoted an anonymous source who had not only viewed the original tape of Rob Ford smoking crack but alleged that there was a plot to use Slurpy in a fake crack tape that could be used to (presumably) extort money from the media.
While Slurpy did not make himself immediately available for comment when that story broke, he did eventually chat with the Post last summer about the unwanted media attention that the fake-crack-video plot introduced to his life: “I tried to steer away from this right from the beginning. I don’t even look like the guy… I don’t want to be embroiled in this, and that’s it. I said, ‘This is a scam, and you’re going to go down for this. You’re going to end up in jail.’”
Despite admitting that he doesn’t really look like Rob Ford, Slurpy showed up to the auditions, and we had a nice chat. He told me that in the beginning, when he was dragged into the story, he didn’t want any part of it, and has had the nickname Slurpy since he was seven years old because of his lisp. The nickname has seemingly stuck around for adult life because he still has a bit of a lisp, and he's in the candy-vending-machine business.
“Long story short, I’ve had a lot of moral support from a lot of good friends, and they all pushed me to come down here to try and catch the leading role. To me, it was a nightmare in the beginning, but now that I see this musical my friends tell me: ‘You gotta step forward; you gotta make a move on this.’
“I’ve got a good, positive outlook to try and make this work. So if they want to work with me, I’ll work with them. We’ll see what happens…This is an avenue that could provide a future. Things have been tough for me for the past little while, but my positive outlook has kept me going. I’m going to take a crack at it.”
When I pointed out that "taking a crack at it" was a great pun, he just laughed. Good luck, Slurpy.
After speaking with Slurpy, I met up with Kevin Jollimore, who’s getting ready to play Richard Nixon in a play called Elvis and Dick at the local Fringe Festival. Given that he’s familiar with acting like a sketchy political leader, I asked Kevin what the similarities between playing Ford and Nixon are.
“I try to find something lovable (or likeable, at least) in a character. If there’s nothing but hate from the audience, you might lose them. It’s one-dimensional. With Nixon, he’s guilty of a lot of dastardly deeds, but I try and interject that he was doing it for the good of his country…"
“With Rob Ford, I think people feel kinda sorry for the guy. It’s like Chris Farley—I loved that guy, but there was a death watch going on with him, like, ‘When’s he gonna OD?’ I think Rob Ford, unfortunately, might be one of those characters...
“The Rob Ford story isn’t over. It could go many, many ways. He could come out of rehab 180 pounds, looking like he walked out of GQ, or he could come out of rehab and something very dark could happen. I don’t think even the most vehement Rob Ford haters wish him deathly harm or ill. Just get him off the political landscape.”
By the third hour of auditions, media attention had hit its peak and the audition began to undergo a tonal shift—thanks to a lack of genuine Rob Ford look-alikes hoping to get a gig and an emergence of trolls and passersby looking for a bit of attention. That’s about the time when a rapper named Mark Brathwaite came in to audition for the part of Rob Ford.
Mark spit a quick freestyle about Ford, then told a story about selling Toronto Blue Jays T-shirts on the street, which is where he met Mayor Ford for the first time. Apparently, Ford offered him some kind of gig as a rapper who could help him with his initiative to make Toronto a better music city, which was quickly cut short once the whole admitting-to-smoking-crack thing took hold of his career.
The judges did not seem overly impressed with Mark's charming anecdote.
After Mark’s rap, a man named Greg walked in for the last audition before the entire media scrum was kicked out of the room. Greg read a very peculiar monologue in which he played a man whose lover tells him that she’s fallen for another man—just as they’re about to have to sex. As his ex-lover begins to pack all of her belongings to go be with another dude, he sneakily takes her “diaphragm jelly” and empties the tube, then fills it back up with a popular heat rub called Tiger Balm.
This bizarre monologue was met with nervous laughs.
Then Greg went over to the piano and played Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” for a perplexed audience of judges and a few remaining reporters. I’m not going to pretend like the song has any particular relevance to the Rob Ford story, but perhaps you’d like to draw your own meaning from a section of the chorus, which I've reproduced below.
The greatest love of all
Is happening to me.
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me.
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve.
Learning to love yourself—
It is the greatest love of all.
Follow Patrick McGuire on Twitter.