TORONTO — Scores of people turned out for Thursday’s sold-out premiere of a musical satire about Toronto’s infamous mayor just hours after a cancer-stricken Rob Ford thanked well wishers from his hospital bed for their support.
Organizers pulled a planned red carpet and dimmed the marquee out of respect for Ford’s situation but decided the show had to go on in light of contractual obligations to cast, crew and theatre staff.
Some of those who turned out admitted to a feeling a touch uncomfortable at watching a show based on the notorious foibles of a man whose substance abuse and often offensive conduct made him a celebrity, a laughing stock and object of scorn.
“It’s bad timing that it’s opening just as he became ill,” said Patricia Ribbans-Hryciw.
“But we had our tickets, we’re here to enjoy it, but I do feel sorry for the man.”
Her husband, Nicholas Hryciw, had no qualms about coming to see a funny show about a “likeable” Ford, regardless of his health.
“It’s not about the illness, it’s about the show,” Hyrciw said.
“The show is what matters to people.”
In a nod to the mayor’s situation, audience members were given an opportunity to donate money to cancer research — something they can do at each show.
Earlier Thursday, Ford issued a recorded statement in which he pledged to face his health challenge head on. He also urged voters to rally behind his brother Doug, who entered the mayoral race after the cancer forced him to withdraw.
Jessica Herbert, an avid supporter of the mayor, admitted to some pangs about attending the comedy show given the mayor’s poor health but said he would see the humour in it.
“He’s kind of resilient to all the criticism and stuff,” Herbert said.
“I don’t think he’d have a problem with this — he’d probably laugh along if he was sitting in the audience as well.”
Dubbed as “gravy train meets the crazy train” in reference to Ford’s campaign promise to cut waste at city hall, the “unabashed, take-no-prisoners comedy” traces Ford’s rise to notoriety, starting with the reports in May last year of a cellphone video apparently showing him smoking crack cocaine.
Brett McCaig produced “Rob Ford the Musical: Birth of a Ford Nation,” slated to run through Sept. 28, and co-wrote the book and lyrics with P. Joseph Regan.
McCaig called the production a “passion project.”
Anthony Bastianon composed 10 original tunes for the story in which a “spiritual guide” leads Ford — played by actor-singer Sheldon Bergstrom of Prince Albert, Sask. — through the past year of his tumultuous life, including his admitted drug use and stint in rehab.
The show features several recognizable characters who played roles in the mayor’s scandal-plagued year, including novelist Margaret Atwood and Ford’s brother.
McCaig has said he wanted to bring a humanistic quality to a man who had become a “two-dimensional cartoon character.”