In creating an upcoming stage musical about scandal-plagued Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, playwright Brett McCaig couldn't help but think of a certain literary figure.
'It's a timeless story. Actually, it's been written 100 times — it's this rise to greatness and then a huge, huge fall due to your own weaknesses.' - Brett McCaig, playwright
"Falstaff from Shakespeare," McCaig said in a telephone interview. "He's very Shakespearean or operatic. He's our modern tragic hero — he rode in on his white horse, stallion, to save his village and then through his own weaknesses fell hard."
McCaig will be looking to fill the shoes of such a character on Monday when he and his collaborators hold an open casting call for Rob Ford The Musical: The Birth of a Ford Nation at Toronto's Second City Training Centre. The show is set to run at Toronto's Factory Theatre from Sept. 16 to Sept. 28, although McCaig said there's a possibility of extending it.
"We've fielded just hundreds and hundreds of calls, so I think it's going to be a bit of a gong show," McCaig said of the audition. "But the more the merrier because then we have a bigger pool to find that perfect Rob Ford."
- Rob Ford's addiction: Reducing stigma or doing a 'disservice' to rehab?
- Rob Ford undergoing treatment at GreeneStone, rehab facility confirms
- Lee Anne McRobb had permission to use Rob Ford's SUV, police say
McCaig said he started working on the show a year ago, writing the book and lyrics with P. Joseph Regan while longtime collaborator Anthony Bastianon penned the music.
As the three sat in a pub discussing Ford's mounting antics — from his admissions of trying crack cocaine and using drugs while in office, to being caught on multiple cellphone videos appearing intoxicated and uttering profanities on national TV — McCaig saw it as "one of the greatest stories that's ever happened."
"I think a lot of folks looked at this poorly and thought it was terrible for Toronto, but I think Toronto has never been more spoken of or thought about in the North American diaspora than ever," said the St. Thomas, Ont., native, who is also an actor and has dabbled in standup comedy.
"The whole story is huge, so we thought, 'How do you make that even bigger?' and the next thing is, of course, singing and dancing."
Writing the story hasn't been cut and dried as Ford's life continues to take unexpected turns, the latest being his treatment for an admitted alcohol problem.
"We have had many drafts, actually, and we've got a draft that we think will be the last one," said McCaig. "We have five blank pages and we're waiting to see what happens."
The main story and characters are in place, though.
McCaig said the show starts out with the character Ford getting knocked out when a camera lens accidentally hits him in the face. The "pseudo-fact-based" story then follows "a little journey of discovery" throughout his tenure.
There are 10 original songs — in the genres of pop, rock and country — including some ballads that the Ford character will sing.
"You don't even have to know Rob Ford to love this story," said McCaig. "It's a timeless story. Actually, it's been written 100 times — it's this rise to greatness and then a huge, huge fall due to your own weaknesses. God, this story has been written 100 years ago, you know what I mean?"
Other characters include brother Doug Ford, a police chief, a prominent lawyer, novelist Margaret Atwood, a newspaper editor and a "spiritual guide" named Transgression (a.k.a. Tranny) who serves as "the voice of reason."
"We thought, 'What better way to take Rob Ford through his life than a transvestite?"' said McCaig. "She's trying to teach him how he should have carried himself throughout this."
'Nobody is safe'
The media is also a character "because that was very prominent in his whole rise and fall, was the media," he added.
McCaig said they also wanted to bring a humanistic quality to a mayor who has "become this two-dimensional cartoon character," and he stressed the 90-minute show isn't "Ford bashing because that's too easy."
"We've been doing that for a year and a half, so we wanted to show the whole evolution of the story and how everybody played a part in that — even the people played a part in it."
And "nobody is safe," he said. "We're satirizing everything and everybody."
But will the mayor's admitted drug use be involved?
"You might see a crack pipe mixed with tap shoes," said McCaig.
Ford welcome to see the show
Yes, that means the person playing Ford in the show has to be able to dance.
"I'm calling it a quadruple threat — he has to kind of look like Rob, he has got to be able to sing, dance and act. Big comedy, a big comedian," said McCaig.
He and the creative team have a couple of actors in mind for the leading role, but they "want the perfect guy," and that's why they're holding the open "colour-blind casting" that will also be looking for performers to play Doug Ford and Tranny.
McCaig said he's never met the mayor and would be happy for him to see the show.
"I would love him to give the opening-night curtain speech. He definitely has an open invitation for him and his family and we can supply him with tickets whenever he makes a call. It would be amazing. I'd love it.
"We have an idea, actually — we'd love to put him in the play, but we'll see. I don't know if he'll be interested in that."