Lead actor of Rob Ford musical says some people think he's the 'real' deal
Actor Sheldon Bergstrom poses for a photo in Toronto on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, as he prepares for the role of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in the upcoming musical 'Rob Ford the Musical: Birth of A Ford Nation.' (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Abdul Latheef, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, September 2, 2014 2:30PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 2, 2014 4:40PM EDT
TORONTO -- A new musical comedy about Toronto's embattled mayor doesn't open until the middle of the month, but the Saskatchewan actor who plays the lead role in the show says some people are already giving him "heck" thinking he's the "real" Rob Ford.
"At times they're happy to see me and at times I have had people yell at me and give me a stern talking to about my drinking, which of course, I am not really a drinker," Sheldon Bergstrom told The Canadian Press on Tuesday as rehearsals began for "Rob Ford the Musical: Birth of A Ford Nation."
"They think I am the mayor, so they will give me heck -- 'no more drinking, no more drinking.' I am not Rob Ford."
Bergstrom, 42, was chosen last month from nearly 100 hopefuls vying for the title role in the show which opens at Toronto's Factory Theatre on Sept. 16 for a two-week run.
The actor, who bears a resemblance to Ford, said his efforts to meet the mayor personally have been unsuccessful, but most people have been very supportive of his artistic endeavour.
"It's all a bit of challenge, but a fun one," Bergstrom said of the role. "This is unlike any other challenge I have had ever before, and I am honoured to be able to do it."
Meanwhile, the producer of the musical said the show was unlikely to have any impact on next month's mayoral election, in which Ford is running for re-election.
"It would be nice to think that a small little show, a little band of actors could have an impact on a major city election," said Brett McCaig. "I highly doubt we could sway this election. But it will be nice to think we could."
The musical is not about making Ford look horrible or about making him look fantastic, noted the show's director, Liz Gilroy.
"We make it very clear that he made some really bad choices and we don't forgive him for any of that," she said. "But we also try to find his humanity about why he would make those mistakes and who is to blame?"
Ford's bad choices included his admitted alcohol and drug abuse, for which he spent two months in rehab earlier this year.
His role as mayor has been largely symbolic since November, when city council stripped him of most of his powers following a string of controversies that included the surfacing of videos that appeared to show the mayor making offensive and profane comments.
Ticket sales for the upcoming musical are "off the charts" and the reaction to the show is mixed, just like it has been with Ford himself, said McCaig.
"Some people are so angry they want come and see the show. Some people love him so much, they want to come and see the show. And there is just people who is interested who want to be part of this pop culture phenomenon."
He also said the show's creators had no feedback from Ford or his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, about the musical.
"We have extended an invitation for them to come opening night. We would love to have them come any night. We will always have two seats available for them," said McCaig.
The 90-minute musical has a cast of eight, including Bergstrom, with some playing multiple roles.