Q+A: Brett McCaig

Writer, Rob Ford The Musical

Brett McCaig hoped Rob Ford wouldn’t have a heart attack before his show opened, but considered it a remote possibility. For the writer and producer of a musical comedy about the mayor, a development like that could pose a problem.

The good news is that the mayor’s heart is okay. The bad news is that, less than a week before previews of Rob Ford The Musical: Birth Of A Ford Nation, the mayor was admitted to hospital for treatment of an abdominal tumour. Two days later, he withdrew his bid for re-election and signed up to seek his old council seat instead.

This isn’t the first time McCaig’s show has required tweaking. The producers provoked a backlash when their original casting call sought people of colour to play a “transvestite” named “Tranny” who would serve as the mayor’s spiritual guide. Initially unaware that either term was offensive, McCaig says they’ve rewritten the character as a drag queen named “Transgression,” with emphasis removed from the cross-dressing aspect.

After a handful of previews, Rob Ford The Musical, starring Sheldon Bergstrom as Rob Ford and Lisa Horner as Margaret Atwood, opens Thursday (September 18) at the Factory Theatre. See listing.

You’ve got a lot of attention for this show. More than you expected?

This has been crazy. I guess people hope for this much attention, but it adds to the pressure on the actors and the production, because I suppose there is a point where it’s too much press. Can we live up to it?

What direction did you end up taking with the show?

It’s a traditional musical comedy. But the thing we wanted to do differently was to show Ford as a more three-dimensional character instead of the cartoon he has been portrayed as so far. We try to explore the relationship between him and his brother, and the relationship between him and his brother and his father.

His relationship with his father is a very core part of who he is and what drives him. In what way are you incorporating that?

We’re just sort of addressing [the question] “How did Rob Ford become Rob Ford?” So how does someone get to that situation? What are his true relationships in life? You see him and his brother are very tight, they both went into politics, their father was a politician. You can kind of see how it all might have gone.

How do you handle the darker aspects around the fringes of the Ford story?

We’re trying to go in the Canadian fashion, the way we as Canadians deal with things: with comedy and irreverence.

What’s the show’s general arc?

It starts when Rob Ford gets hit in the face with a camera. In [real] life, you know, he went on his rant. But in the show he gets knocked out. And then he meets Transgression, who sort of takes him through a year in his life as mayor – what he did wrong, what he could have done right, what he might have done differently.

What’s the theme or message you’re trying to put across?

The theme is a question: Did we all have a hand in this, in this craziness that some people believe has embarrassed Toronto irreparably in the eyes of the world? If we had all turned our TV sets off and hadn’t listened to it and talked about it at the water cooler endlessly and written musicals about it and all that, would it be what it is? I don’t know.

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