A Toronto high school student has written and recorded a 35-minute, 18-track concept album for a musical charting the rise and fall of Mayor Rob Ford.
Modeled after the works of Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin) and Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next To Normal, If/Then), the 11-song opus is - for better or worse, depending on your taste - pretty much exactly what a Rob Ford musical would sound like if it were mounted on Broadway today.
Fifteen-year-old Mateo Lewis, about to enter grade 10 at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, tells NOW that he's "been into musical theatre for a loooong, long time." Last fall, he was looking to write his own show and wanted a contemporary premise that hadn't previously been explored in the medium. (This, he notes, predated word of the piece being put on at the Factory this September.)
Lewis says a friend suggested that he tackle Rob Ford, and so he began thinking of the numerous real-life scenarios that could lend themselves to numbers.
And indeed the finished product includes all the obvious moments, rendered with appropriate wit: Ford's election victory, reporter Robyn Doolittle viewing the crack video, the non-denial press conference, the eventual admission scrum, and so on. But the creative highlight is the subplot fleshing out a backstory for crack-videographer Mohamed Siad and the girlfriend with whom he hoped to run away.
"When I was doing research and I found out about Mohamed Siad and his motives for filming the tape," Lewis says, "I was like, 'Well, this is not talked about in the media as much as the tape itself and the mayor, and it's important.'"
Presenting that angle through the lens of Schwartzian earnestness is inherently funny - like many of the songs in The Book Of Mormon, for example, the ballads pay tribute to and send up their inspirations, while recontextualizing both the subject matter and the form itself.
Lewis recorded the album from mid-June through mid-July, with himself, six classmates, and his younger brother performing vocals for the various characters. Right now, however, he has no plans to put on a full production.
"At this point, it's strictly a concept album," he says. "I was thinking maybe if I can get my friends together, we could do a little production somewhere in either, like, a church or even my living room for friends, but I dunno."
Perhaps a site-specific staging in a basement.