He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1982, where he performed in several musicals and directed Hello Dolly for their Summer Theatre program. He did graduate work at Illinois State University, and then moved to Chicago, where he began his directing career.
Griffin made his Broadway directing debut with the musical The Color Purple in 2005. He directed the revival of The Apple Tree on Broadway, which opened in December 2006, and Honeymoon in Vegas, which opened on Broadway in January 2015.
Griffin directed the staged concert presentations of Fiorello! (2013), Lost In The Stars (2011), Music in the Air (2009), The Apple Tree (2005), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (2005), Pardon My English (2004) and The New Moon (2003) for New York City Center Encores! and Beautiful Thing at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1999.
His production of Pacific Overtures was produced at London's Donmar Warehouse in 2003 and received the 2004 Olivier Award for "Outstanding Musical Production". This production was first presented at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and won the 2002 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Musical.
His production of My Fair Lady played both the McCarter Theatre and Hartford Stage in 2004 after its debut at Chicago's Court Theatre. In 2009 he directed a lauded production of West Side Story at the Stratford Festival of Canada. The reviewer for The Globe and Mail wrote: "Griffin's production has an electric charge that keeps the hairs on your skin tingling from start to finish, thanks to two incredible leads cast as the star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria and Rick Fox's assertive musical direction."
Griffin has directed several Stephen Sondheim musicals for Chicago Shakespeare Theater, including A Little Night Music in 2003 and Sunday in the Park with George in 2012. In 2014, he directed Road Show and Gypsy for CST. Griffin has received eight Joseph Jefferson Awards for directing and has twice been named a "Chicagoan of the Year in the Arts" by the Chicago Tribune. He was the Co-Artistic Director of the Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park, Illinois, starting in 1998, and was the artistic director of Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois starting in 1993. Regarding his work at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, the Chicago Tribune wrote: "Gary Griffin is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most versatile--and busiest--directors on the local theater scene. As artistic director at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, he has faithfully re-created an impressive roster of vintage musicals in recent seasons, while somehow finding time to moonlight in contemporary drama for such groups as Apple Tree, Pegasus Players and Buffalo Theatre Ensemble."
- Denson, Wil."Friends of Music. The Gary Griffin Years" uwes.edu, accessed October 1, 2015
- Rockford Register Star, May 13, 2007, "East grad’s ‘Color Purple’ gets strong reviews", accessed May 19, 2007 (dead link)
- The Color Purple Internet Broadway database, accessed October 3, 2015
- "Gary Griffin Broadway" playbillvault.com, accessed September 30, 2015
- Gans, Andrew. "Former Congressman Barney Frank Will Make NYC Stage Debut in Encores! 'Fiorello!" Playbill, January 28, 2013
- Simonson, Robert. "'A Tree Grows' at City Center as 2005 Encores! Season Gets Underway" Playbill, February 10, 2005
- Simonson, Robert. "Cursed 1933 Gershwin Musical 'Pardon My English' Hopes for Better Luck with Encores! In 2004" Playbill, March 16, 2004
- Simonson, Robert. "Noll, Abraham, Ward and Moses Shine Under Encores! 'New Moon', March 27-30" Playbill, March 27, 2003
- "New York City Center Encores, Previous Seasons" nycitycenter.org, accessed October 3, 2015
- "'Beautiful Thing' 1999" lortel.org, accessed September 30, 2015
- Wolf, Matt. "Review: ‘Pacific Overtures’" The Guardian, July 9, 2003
- Jones, Kenneth. "Gary Griffin Will Direct 'Follies', Opening 25th Season of Chicago Shakespeare Theater" Playbill, February 23, 2011
- Hernandez, Ernio. "Cast Set for Gary Griffin Two-Piano Staging of 'My Fair Lady' at Hartford Stage, July 3-Aug. 1" Playbill, May 24, 2004
- Nestruck, J. Kelly. "A stunning 'West Side Story'" The Globe and Mail, June 7, 2009
- Simonson, Robert. "Broadway's Cerveris, Britain's Spiro and Bounce's Powers Cast in Griffin's Chicago 'Night Music', Dec. 23-Feb. 15" Playbill, November 12, 2003
- Jones, Kenneth. "'Sunday in the Park With George', With Jason Danieley, Carmen Cusack, Linda Stephens, Opens in Chicago Oct. 3" Playbill, October 3, 2012
- Jones, Chris. "Gary Griffin and Stephen Sondheim, together again" Chicago Tribune, February 5, 2014
- Simonson, Robert. "Gary Griffin Named Co-Artistic Director of IL's Apple Tree Theatre" Playbill, July 17, 1998
- Murphy, H. Lee. "Busy Gary Griffin Directs A Witty `Flea'" Chicago Tribune, January 15, 1997
- "Julian Lennon, Tin Cup Gypsy, Donna Burke, Mark Ballas, Maxi Priest, Wendy Parr, Monday Michiru, Amber Lily, Tierney Sutton, Rie Fu and Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band – Shine On! Songs Volume One". Discogs. 7 October 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2011.