TORONTO — After campaigning nearly as hard as a candidate in Toronto’s mayoral race, Sheldon Bergstrom of Prince Albert, Sask., has landed the role of Rob Ford in an upcoming new musical comedy about the city’s embattled mayor.
“I’ve been fascinated by him for a long time,” the actor-singer-comedian told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. “All across Canada, all throughout the world, people are watching this man, this mayor of … Canada’s greatest city, and he has managed to pull off some amazing things and pull off some crazy things in his time as mayor.”
“Rob Ford the Musical: Birth of A Ford Nation” is set to debut at Toronto’s Factory Theatre from Sept. 16 to 28.
The 90-minute show has 10 original tunes and sees a “spiritual guide” leading Ford through the past year of his tumultuous life — including his admitted drug use and stint in rehab.
Bergstrom, 42, said he was starring in the musical “Hairspray” in Edmonton when auditions for the role of Ford were held earlier this summer, so he wrote to the producers and creators “and begged them and pleaded” for an opportunity to try out.
When they agreed, he sent them “love letters” as well as a video of him singing “Mustang Sally” and what he calls “a Rob Ford version” of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.”
He later sent them more videos and had friends, family members and fellow actors from across Canada campaign for him via Facebook and Twitter.
Producers say he ended up winning the role over nearly 100 other hopeful actors, including one who’s starring on Broadway.
“He’s kind of like a Shakespearean cartoon character,” Bergstrom said at the Factory Theatre, wearing a Ford-esque suit complete with a red tie and a handkerchief to wipe the perspiration off his forehead.
“I am so lucky to be playing him.”
Bergstrom said he was also keen on getting the part because he wanted to work on a new musical and had long been wanting to collaborate with book/lyrics writers Brett McCaig and P. Joseph Regan, as well as composer Anthony Bastianon.
The portly performer also bears a resemblance to Ford — something he’s further emphasized by cutting his brown hair short and dyeing it blond.
McCaig said that resemblance, as well as Bergstrom’s talent, got him the part.
“Sheldon has been very genuine. We looked all over Canada and we saw a ton of people and he was the perfect Rob Ford.”
Liz Gilroy directs the show, which has several other recognizable characters, including councillor brother Doug Ford and novelist Margaret Atwood. She’ll be played by Lisa Horner, who recently made a splash as Madame Thenardier in a Toronto production of “Les Miserables.”
Bergstrom said before landing his part, he was mostly familiar with Ford’s “dark side” — the “crazy antics” he’d catch on the news in Saskatchewan.
“Every once in a while they’ll show him exploding in the middle of a city meeting and just scaring people to death, and I would think: ‘First of all, that guy looks like me, and second of all, he’s kind of crazy, someone should write a show about him.”’
McCaig said they only recently wrote the last few pages of the script, as they were waiting to see if Ford’s life would take yet another unexpected turn.
“We’ve got the ending … but we’re leaving room for possible antics,” he said.
He also put a “shout out” to the Ford brothers to see the show but hasn’t heard back, he added.
“I’d love Rob to come down and give the opening-night speech or the closing-night speech. This is not 90 minutes of Ford bashing. It’s a balanced look at the whole year, of all the players in it.”
Bergstrom is happy the script gives Ford “a fair shake.”
“I don’t want him to feel like he’s been picked on and made fun of. It’s not about that,” he said. “This is a musical comedy, so there’s certainly some jabs, but the best thing about the script is that nobody is safe.”
McCaig said he’s hoping the show will have an extension, and he has ambitions of going off-Broadway with the production — depending on how the mayoral race turns out.
“The story dies if Rob doesn’t get voted back in,” he said. “If Rob gets voted back in, I think we’ve got legs for a continued run, for sure.”