A funny thing happened when De'Lon Grant went to his seventh callback for "Hamilton." The Duluth-bred actor landed his first role on Broadway — but in a different Tony Award-winning musical.
Grant plays Bob and others in "Come from Away," a contemporary piece based on real events in Gander, Newfoundland, in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He replaces original cast member Rodney Hicks, who was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia — a neurological disorder that has made it impossible for the performer to continue as a professional stage singer, according to a note on Hicks' Facebook page.
"It was super quick," said Grant in a phone interview from New York City, where he has been living — and had been juggling multiple day jobs.
From audition to his first Broadway bow: three and a half weeks.
Grant, 34, spent the past few years in a touring production of "Jersey Boys," and last fall settled into Boston for a production of "The Scottsboro Boys," where he played leader Haywood Patterson and was described as a "vividly commanding presence" and "moving" in a Boston Globe review.
He returned to New York City in February and had been working in customer service and catering while also trying to start his own photography business.
"I was on the New York hustle," Grant said.
The casting director from "Hamilton" introduced him to the casting director from "Come from Away." Grant then auditioned for the latter and was at a callback a week later. Within two days of securing the role, he was in rehearsals with an associate director, choreographer, accompanist and stage manager who prepared him to join the rest of the cast — most who have been involved with the production since it played at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in 2015.
The show opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in March 2017.
Working actors dream of a Broadway show, a TV series, a movie, Grant said. But: "When you're in the trenches, that dream can shift into disillusionment. You do the work that comes along and hopefully it's interesting," he said. "Broadway didn't seem within the realm of possibility. I was focused elsewhere, and it showed up."
Grant's first response was disbelief — which didn't abate until he started telling other people, who reminded him that he has put in a lot of hard work. Then: "A lot of gratitude," he added. "I'm still living in the gratitude and thankfulness that it is here and it is my time."
"Come from Away," by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley (who won a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical), is about the passengers from 38 airplanes who were suddenly rerouted to a small Canadian town on 9/11. The grounded travelers watch
the news unfold, then are taken in by residents of the small town and nearby communities.
A reviewer for the New York Times allowed that theatergoers might balk at the premise of a feel-good 9/11 musical. But, the timing is right, according to Ben Brantley.
"We are now in a moment in which millions of immigrants are homeless and denied entry to increasingly xenophobic nations, including the United States," he wrote. "A tale of an insular populace that doesn't think twice before opening its arms to an international throng of strangers acquires a near-utopian nimbus."
"Come from Away," a term for people not born in Newfoundland, has a 12-member ensemble cast and spare sets — just 14 chairs, two tables, a turntable and a seven-piece band.
"We live in a Broadway era of the big spectacle," Grant said. "Big sets, big costume budgets. This strips that away so simply, beautifully and effectively."
Grant, who sat through multiple runs before joining the cast, said he felt an immediate emotional connection to the story — despite a "tornado of nerves."
One of the responsibilities of theater, Grant said, is to make people think and feel. "Come from Away" succeeds in doing that and is exactly the kind of theater he wants to create, he said.
"It's such a good piece of theater" he said. "It's timely, we need it in the world."
'I'm on Broadway'
Grant, a 2002 graduate of Duluth Central High School, made his debut on Aug. 4 — the day before his birthday. The self-described Type A personality said he knew he had to be focused and at his best — no time for living in the moment.
"I did the whole first show, and there was a lot of love coming at me," he said. "After the bow is when it sunk in, and I went 'Oh. I'm on Broadway. Wow. Wow.' It's such a beautiful group of people and we came off the stage and they surrounded me and I burst into tears. I started crying, (some of them) started crying. The floodgates opened. That's when it sunk in and I was able to let go. That was something I'll never forget as long as I live — that moment."
Bree Rodrigues, who teaches music to middle schoolers in Hermantown, has been a fan of the "Come from Away" soundtrack since before her friend landed a role in the production. She recently returned from a trip to New York City, where she saw six theatrical productions — including Grant's show.
She went in allowing some leeway for the newest cast member. He didn't need it.
"He was steady throughout the show," Rodrigues said. "His acting was on point, it was genuine and honest, and the choreography — he looks so good on his feet. Man, that guy can move. Even though I'm biased, honestly, he was absolutely amazing."
Now that he has a Broadway show, Grant has been able to shelve his other gigs — the catering, the customer service.
"Once 'Come from Away' happened, I've had to do a 180 completely," he said. "I go to the theater and do what I love. Now I have time to read or write or taking an acting class during the day.
"The possibilities are endless."