Q&A: Matt Baram, writer of an upcoming Rob Ford-themed holiday musical
Many Torontonians were eagerly anticipating today’s Rob Ford verdict, but writer Matt Baram was a special case: the plot of his new satirical show, It’s a Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular!, hinged on whether the mayor was ousted or not. Needless to say, Baram is doing some rewriting.
The musical comedy, which opens Dec. 11 at Theatre Passe Muraille, is “not a Ford bashing session,” says Baram. “We try to humanize him.” Albeit, in a funny way. We chatted with Baram about today’s verdict, how Ford is like George Bailey and what makes him such a popular satirical figure.
So, in light of today’s verdict, will there be changes made?
Yes. I was sitting by the computer, waiting for the verdict and thinking, “For some reason, I’m hoping for Rob’s victory in all of this. If he’s thrown out of office, I’m busy and I will have to rewrite my whole entire play.” Of course I knew [the verdict] was going to come in on Monday, and of course I don’t want him to be mayor, but he if isn’t, then my play won’t make any sense. I was a bit torn. Ultimately, it will make it more enjoyable for people and not much changes. And any publicity is good publicity.
Can you tell us a little bit about what’s the story about?
We open with Rob Ford on the bridge about to jump — the approval ratings are down, he’s hit with these charges, he has the verdict, he’s been ousted and he’s going to kill himself. And then in comes an angel and an angel of death, and they have a song and dance number. They remind him of all the terrible things he’s done as mayor, but he can always come back and seek another term and doesn’t have to die; no matter what’s he done as mayor, it’s still a wonderful city. Then Rob Ford falls over and twists his ankle, and we reveal it’s a rehearsal for a Christmas show [that’s also called It’s a Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular!]. It’s a sketch show to boost Rob Ford’s popularity.
How did the idea of a Rob Ford-inspired musical comedy come about?
Theatre Passe Muraille had an empty week in their December schedule and they asked my company — The National Theatre of the World — to create something. We normally do improvised theatre, but we wanted to do something scripted. I also realized that Passe Muraille had a mandate of Toronto-centered material, so I thought of the title It’s a Wonderful Toronto and I thought we could do a bit of a recap about the ups and downs of what it’s been like to live in Toronto, a sort of an adult panto. Then there was the idea of the George Bailey character and then I thought who better to be George Bailey than Rob Ford? Especially now that he’s hit his ultimate lowest.
Why do you think Ford’s become a popular satirical figure?
I think people, to be honest, have not gone there because it’s too easy. In the short time, in the two years, he’s been in office, I think more pot shots could have been taken. I think he’s too pathetic for satire. But he was such a bad fit for the city, so Torontonians thought they had to laugh at him. You know deep down he loved being mayor and wanted to do good things for the city, but his own personality just kept getting in the way. He kept setting himself up for falls.
What do you want people to come away with after watching the show?
I want them to laugh a lot. I want them to think about things, to remind them what it takes to be citizens of a city. It requires a little bit more of involvement. It’s a cautionary tale, a reminder of how a city can choose a bad mayor when you don’t participate in the process. I think we get to the point where we sit back and think our council will take care of us and I think Ford was a great reminder for Torontonians and any city that it matters who you elect to city and it matters that you vote.
Would you invite him to the show?
I don’t think he should see this [but] he’s invited. I can’t imagine what he would do. I don’t think he has a sense of humour about himself. He’s such a loose cannon. I don’t think we have the insurance to cover him.
It's a Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular!, Theatre Passe Muraille, Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave., 416-504-7529. Dec. 11-16