Nearly 30 years after his first nomination, David Alan Grier (‘A Soldier’s Play’) could finally win a Tony
Almost 30 years after earning his first Tony Awards nomination for portraying Jackie Robinson in the musical “The First,” David Alan Grier may finally take home his first trophy. Nominated this year for his work in the Broadway debut of Charles Fuller ’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “ A Soldier’s Play ,” Grier currently leads our odds in the Featured Actor category.
Grier earned some of the best notices of his career for his role in the revival, which ran at the American Airlines Theater from January to March 2020. Set on a segregated military base in Louisiana in 1944, the play starred Grier as the vicious Sergeant Vernon C. Waters, whose murder gives the play its central mystery and plot. Helen Shaw ( Vulture ) wrote that Grier “machines each of his scenes to the inch, developing his portrait from a comic tinpot bellower into villainy and then, remarkably, something more tragic,” while Vinson Cunningham ( New Yorker ) said, “Grier makes [Waters’] malice terrifying, but also seductive.” The production earned seven Tony nominations, including Revival, Actor ( Blair Underwood ), and Director ( Kenny Leon ).
Despite his prolific career on television, including roles on “In Living Color,” “Life with Bonnie,” and “The Carmichael Show,” Grier has often returned to the Broadway stage, including as a replacement in the original production of “Dreamgirls” in the role that earned Cleavant Derricks the Featured Actor Tony. He also starred as a replacement in the late-90s revival of Stephen Sondheim ’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in the leading role that earned Nathan Lane his first Tony Award and was also played by Whoopi Goldberg .
He earned his second Tony nomination for his starring role in David Mamet ’s incendiary play “Race” in 2010, in which he played opposite James Spader as a lawyer debating how to represent a wealthy white man ( Richard Thomas ) accused of rape; the play was Kerry Washington ’s Broadway debut. On the heels of this successful return to the boards, Grier played Sporting Life in Diane Paulus ’ revival of “The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess,” which starred Audra McDonald in a Tony-winning performance. Grier earned his third Tony nomination, and the production went on to win for Best Revival.
It took eight years for Grier to return to Broadway in “A Soldier’s Play,” which was a fitting homecoming since Grier has worked on the piece in many of its iterations. He starred in the original 1981 Off-Broadway production opposite Adolph Caesar , Samuel L. Jackson , and Denzel Washington as a replacement in the role originated by Larry Riley . He would go on to appear in the 1984 film adaptation called “A Soldier’s Story,” which also featured Caesar and Washington. It was just announced that Grier will star in and executive produce a new limited series based on “A Soldier’s Play,” portraying the father of the character he played on Broadway.
If Grier wins the Tony on Sunday, he will be only the seventh Black actor to win in the Featured Actor category. Zakes Mokae was the first in 1982 for Athol Fugard ’s “Master Harold… and the Boys,” followed 10 years later by Laurence Fishburne in August Wilson ’s “Two Trains Running.” In 1994, Jeffrey Wright won for Tony Kushner ’s “Angels in America: Perestroika,” followed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson two years later for Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” while a revival of Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” brought Roger Robinson the award in 2009. Courtney B. Vance is the most recent African American winner in the category, winning in 2013 for Nora Ephron ’s “Lucky Guy.” Should Grier not take home the trophy, his fellow nominee Ato Blankson-Wood (“Slave Play”) could also join this estimable list.
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