Rob Ford’s recent political losses have been a cause for celebration in much of the artistic community (not to mention most of the other communities we can think of). But what do you do when you’re rehearsing a Christmas musical about an unpopular mayor and you find out he might not be mayor for that much longer?
“It sent us into a panic of biblical proportions,” admits Matt Baram, co-artistic director of Toronto comedy giants The National Theatre of the World and author of their holiday revue It’s a Wonderful Toronto. “We were considering changes to the whole plot. However, as we learned more about the way municipal politics work and that he would ultimately have a chance to appeal the ruling and fight for his mayoralty, we realized it only made what we had funnier.”
In the show, Ford’s staff is working tirelessly on a show of their own — called It’s a Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Christmas Spectacular, naturally — a propaganda piece intended to boost the mayor’s approval rating. After the initial panic, Baram’s team realized Ford’s ousting actually makes the show more relevant than ever. “In light of the recent events, the stakes for Rob just got way higher,” Baram says. “He’s now doing the show to get reinstated as mayor if there’s a by-election. The timing couldn’t have been better.”
Like any good Christmas panto, It’s a Wonderful Toronto centres on a love story. Dan Forth and Jane Ann Finch are two Ford Nation staffers who met back when they were young and idealistic. “As the story unfolds they bond over their struggle to make Ford likable,” Baram explains. “A task they realize might just be impossible.”
Among the Fordian faux pas the two lovers have to deal with: his notorious refusal to attend Pride. “There’s a running gag in the play that has Rob making a bunch of decisions based on what he calls a ‘Ford Family Tradition.’ He not only goes to the cottage during gay pride, but also during most of the rehearsals for his own show.”
As in the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, Ford gets to see what Toronto might be like if he’d never been mayor, but Baram’s version of this alternate universe isn’t what you’d expect. “We see that the removal of the bike lanes on Jarvis helps avoid a massive bike pileup that would have killed thousands of cyclists,” he explains.
Meanwhile, in a future where Ford remains in power, “The Leafs win the Stanley Cup when he turns them into the league’s first lingerie hockey team, and he converts libraries into something called ‘rib-braries’ — adding tons of cash to city coffers!”
But what if, back on Earth Prime, Ford is (horror of horrors) granted his stay, or somehow manages to win a by-election? “As far as we are concerned, it’s the funniest possible outcome for the city,” Baram jokes. “As costly as it will be for the city, we’ll likely continue to be entertained by him for months to come. It’ll be worth every penny.”