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'Spelling Bee'

Jules Becker | 9/22/2010, 8:29 a.m.
The coming-of-age musical appears at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Oct. 2. Mark S. Howard

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The coming-of-age musical appears at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Oct. 2.

Coming-of-age musical teaches more about life than simply winning and losing

De’Lon Grant has always wanted to work at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.

Now the 27-year-old, Providence-born and Boston-based actor is realizing his goal in the company’s season-opening production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

In fact, the Boston Conservatory and University of Michigan graduate (M.A. in musical theatre and B.F.A. in acting respectively) is fulfilling that desire three-fold. Grant is playing comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney, one of the two gay dads of speller Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre and the unseen father (except in an imagined musical number) of fellow finalist Olive Ostrovsky. Recently he spoke to the Bay State Banner about his roles, the musical and his own comfort level in the Boston theater community.

Grant said that one of his challenges was making the three roles different.

He understandably had the most to say about Mahoney, the largest of the three parts. Doing community service as the comfort counselor, Mahoney hands a juice box to contestants misspelling a word and gives each one a comforting hug before escorting them out of the bee. Eventually the comfort counselor has the opportunity in a memorable monologue to reflect on the difficult lessons about life — especially that life can be unfair — which the competition sometimes underscores.

Where some actors might look at Mahoney as only a character, Grant saw him as a spectator as well. “I look at him as a kind of audience member watching what is going on,” he explains.

As such, he identified with “the great universality of what the kids are trying to achieve (as spellers and children)” and “especially the anxiety (of the bee ).”

Grant gave the show high marks for its sensitivity. “There’s something heartfelt about the way the show looks at the characters,” he maintained.

Thinking at times about the counselor’s function in the show, he chose  “to have Mitch actively watch them (the spellers).”

“He has to see all that’s going on,” Grant explained. “Otherwise, he just seems like he’s coming up to them randomly.”

Grant himself recalled being “the kid that was very much into running around outside.” He even played football in junior high. But then he discovered theater and found his niche.

The thoughtful performer has also worked out his approach to the two father roles. Grant saw his dad character as “the more nurturing parent.” He regarded the other parent, Carl, as “more the pusher.” By contrast, he looked at Olive’s unseen father and her attempt to cope with absentee parents in “The I Love You Song” with sadness.

“That scene breaks my heart,” he admitted. “My heart breaks for her.”

Declaring that the Hub community “has really embraced me,” the busy performer has worked on Boston stages for the last four years and now has roles in “St. Joan” and other shows at Wheelock Family Theatre and “Dessa Rose” at New Repertory Theatre.

Grant welcomed the “new companies getting started” in Boston and praised the area’s talent. “It’s a small community (compared to New York’s),” he observed, “but there’s a lot of opportunity.”