As the third Pseudolus in the third Broadway edition of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the 41-year-old Grier had to have a pretty high yuk quotient to follow Whoopi Goldberg, who, in turn, was following a Tony-winning Nathan Lane. "I'm finding my way as I go," he cheerfully confesses. "Nathan did his thing, Whoopi did her thing, and now I'm doing my thing. Listen if it works, I'll definitely steal it.
"Every day has been so much fun. Jerry [director Jerry Zaks] has been great, and the company has been cool. Especially Whoopi. I just want to say how loving and generous she has been. Little things. When I started rehearsals, she said, 'This is your dressing room now. Anytime you want to use it, I've left the key for you.' She just went out of her way to welcome me. When President Clinton saw the show and came backstage, she made sure that I was introduced to him. She was so wonderful. It's beyond being courteous. That's just the way she is."
Grier wasn't even out of Yale Drama School when he found his way on to Broadway. He was the first person to audition for The First, and nine call-backs later, over a three-and-a-half month period, he got the title role of Jackie Robinson. "Although it may not have attained financial success, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences I've ever had."
After this abbreviated Broadway bow, Grier tried his luck Off-Broadway, replacing the late Larry Riley in Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Soldier's Play. "I was there with Adolph Caesar, Denzel Washington, Sam Jackson. Sam's a huge star now. He was great then." Following that, he boomeranged back to Broadway via Dreamgirls.
In 1986 Grier's career reached a critical crossroads, and he took a sharp turn from theatre into television and, more than that, from drama into comedy. Torn between Big Deal (Bob Fosse's last original musical) and small screen, he chose the latter and in due course became a heavy-hitter via Fox's "In Living Color."
When he wasn't sitcom-sidekicking with Damon Wayans, Grier would come East for an occasional Encores! outing at City Center (One Touch of Venus) or a couple of Shakespeares in the Park (The Merry Wives of Windsor and Richard III).
Comedy is the tougher mask to maintain, Grier believes. "Making people laugh is hard work, but it seems as though it has acquired more respect lately thanks to Robin Williams and all those guys. What I enjoy as an artist is the variety. That's why it's so great for me to do a musical like this. "I was telling one of the guys in the cast that when I was an undergrad at the University of Michigan and first starting to act, I thought probably the coolest job in the world was to be in the chorus of a bus-and-truck company of a Broadway show. I'd see the bus and truck come to Ann Arbor, and I would go, 'Wow! Those must be real New York actors. Look! Look at the way they're dressed!' "
Happily for all concerned, Grier's horizon broadened and brightened. "When I got out of Yale, I wanted to be a working actor. Well, I've done more than that. I feel really lucky, every day, especially at this time in my life. I can't tell you how many people I grew up with or that I know who've made their choices, and they just look at me and say, 'Wow! You're doing what you want to do. I'm doing what I have to do.' I feel blessed."