• 2017 True West Award: Kenny Moten

    by John Moore | Dec 07, 2017
    2017 True West Award Kenny Moten. Photo by John Moore

    2017 TRUE WEST AWARDS  

    Day 7: Kenny Moten

    Motones vs. Jerseys
    Miscast 2017
    Aurora Fox Cabaret Series
    Owner, Narrative Creative Consulting

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    If you think being a performer is hard, try being a performer and the owner of your own entertainment and consulting company. Kenny Moten makes the transition from actor to producer to businessman and back again in same manner that often describes his rich singing voice: Smooth as silk.

    Moten is among the very few performers who also knows how to run a business.

    Kenny Moten“It’s rare because owning an entertainment business is brutal in a way that is very different from the way performing is brutal,” said Moten’s frequent creative partner — and employee — Jalyn Courtenay Webb. “When you’re the boss, you are not only responsible for yourself, but for the people you hire and the team you put together. But Kenny has just the right temperament for it. He does everything with integrity. He’s a solid human being.”  

    Moten is the creator and owner of Narrative Creative Consulting, which presents entertainment events and uses various art forms to help clients ranging from National Jewish Hospital to Snooze Eatery to the Denver Center shape their narratives, customer service, employee training and brand strategies.  

    Moten is also the co-creator, director, writer and a featured performer of a clever new musical form called Motones vs. Jerseys. In July, it was up for three Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards, including Outstanding Musical, for its nearly sold-out run at the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins.

    In September, Moten lent his support (and that smooth-as-silk singing voice) to the Denver Actors Fund by appearing in Miscast 2017 as one of the three Fionas singing I Know It’s Today from Shrek the Musical. In October, the Aurora Fox turned to Moten to launch its risky new monthly cabaret series with 12 O’clock Tales: An Evening of Songs and Stories. Both shows sold out, which Webb said is further indication of Moten’s popularity as a performer — and his business acumen. Both come from more than 20 years as a professional performer, Webb says.

    Kenny Moten Miscast 2017“Kenny’s name is synonymous with excellence, and people know that in our community and beyond,” she said. “He was not going to do his show in an empty house — and he certainly did not.”

    Moten caps a remarkable 2017 with a return next week to Motones vs. Jerseys as part of a unique new creative partnership with BDT Stage in Boulder. "MvJ," as the kids call it, is a feel-good, nostalgic evening featuring the music of Motown and The Four Seasons — along with their many ancestors and descendants — in a good-natured competition. After two teams of four performers each rock out a playlist spanning Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Bruno Mars and many more, the audience chooses a winning team using their cell phones to vote.

    (Pictured right: Kenny Moten with his 'Miscast 2017' co-stars, Margie Lamb, left, and Hope Grandon. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter,)

    It’s a concept Moten first developed with Chris Starkey, now of Imprint Group DMC. After several refinements, Moten unveiled a slick new version of the show last year at the Midtown Arts Center, where it received a standing ovation “every single night,” said Webb, who is both the show’s Music Director and nightly emcee. “And let me tell you, I’ve never seen that happen at any dinner theatre before in my life.”

    Motones vs. Jerseys opens on Dec. 10 and will play on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights through Jan. 23, playing in rep the rest of the week with BDT Stage’s holiday staging of Annie.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Moten, who is originally from Hagerstown, Md., graduated from Highlands Ranch High School and the University of Colorado Denver. He transitioned from Barnstormer to leading man with a remarkable 2005 performance in Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the late Country Dinner Playhouse opposite now Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee. Westword’s Juliet Wittman called Moten not only “a wonderful singer with a voice full of poignancy and power,” but also “a charming and seductive performer who brings impressive precision and a smooth, lean elegance to the stage.”

    Other major credits include Swing at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and Altar Boyz at the Clocktower Cabaret, but it wasn’t long before Moten was off to New York. He re-settled in Fort Collins a few years ago and has since been on a roll that has not only furthered his personal and professional interests, but has gainfully employed dozens of local actors and crew members on his many public and corporate projects.

    “The thing I love about Kenny is that he’s so fun, but he’s also completely no-nonsense when it comes to the work,” said Webb. “He expects the highest quality and the highest level of performance possible from his performers, and we respect that. He knows what he wants — and he goes out and gets it."

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    Motones vs. Jerseys: At a glance

    • Dec. 10-Jan. 23
    • BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
    • Performances Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings. Dinner seating begins at 6:15, with the show to follow at 7:45
    • Featuring Brian Cronan, Will Hawkins, Brian Jackson and Jacob Villareal as The Jerseys, and Christian Mark Gibbs, Anthony McGlaun, Kenny Moten and Alejandro Roldan as The Motones.
    • Call 303-449-6000 or bdtstage.com


    ABOUT THE TRUE WEST AWARDS: '30 DAYS, 30 BOUQUETS'

    The True West Awards, now in their 17th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2017 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

    A look back at the history of the True West Awards

    The 2017 True West Awards (to date)

    Video bonus: Motones vs. Jerseys at the 2017 Henry Awards

  • Wally Larson held his theatre students to a higher standard - proudly

    by John Moore | Apr 22, 2016
    Wally Larson. Courtesy of Heather Larson Fritton.
    Photo courtesy of Heather Larson Fritton.


    There was real meaning behind the mundanity whenever legendary high-school theatre teacher Wally Larson told a student to go “sweep the stage.”

    At some point, everyone was made to sweep the stage, from the star to the spotlight operator.

    Wally Larson Quote  Beth Malone“Only later did I recognize this for the Zen act it really was,” said Tony Award-nominated actor Beth Malone (Fun Home), a graduate of Douglas County High School. “It was a way to keep our budding egos in check. It created a level playing field.”

    “Sweeping the stage” meant that everyone was expected to get involved, added Larson’s daughter, Heather Larson Fritton. “Everyone was expected to help build the sets, paint the sets and tear them down. And yes, sometimes, you had to sweep the stage.” That in a nutshell, is what made her father an extraordinary teacher.

    “He made every star do technical work, and he made every technical student feel like a star,” she said. “He made everyone feel special.”

    Larson died April 6 after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 75.

    Larson taught theatre at Douglas County High School and Highlands Ranch High School for a combined 33 years. Over that time, he directed 173 school productions. His hundreds of students have included Malone, Broadway actor Kurt Domoney (A Chorus Line), longtime DCPA Theatre Company actor Kathleen McCall, DCPA Teaching Artists Brian Landis Folkins and Brian McManus, and area actors Kenny Moten, Damon Guerrasio and Trina Magness.

    “His style of mentorship was treating you like you were capable - therefore making you capable," Malone said.

    Malone keeps thinking back to one particular afternoon when it was just she and Larson and a table saw.

    “We were on the stage and he had a pile of 1x4s that he needed ripped in half,” she said. Malone had never operated Larson’s loud and powerful table saw before, but Larson worked with Malone over and over until they had produced a perfect pile of 1x2s.

    “I had a feeling we had accomplished something together as a team,” Malone said. “It was stupid, but it gave me such a feeling of satisfaction and ‘grown-up-ness’ that he would assume I was a reliable-enough assistant to trust with this job. That was how he got you.” 

    Wally LarsonMcCall said Larson pushed her harder than any teacher, mentor, director or friend than she has ever had.

    “Mr. Larson was an intense man, a perfectionist, and he was passionate about the work and the kids he taught," said McCall, who is currently playing the Beggar Woman in the DCPA Theatre Company’s Sweeney Todd. "He was demanding, and he never let us think for a moment that we were just doing ‘high-school theatre.’ He set the bar high - and we rose to the occasion.”

    Fritton said Larson also was a champion of teenagers who had bad home lives.

    “My father left the theatre open at night and on weekends so kids would always have a place to go,” she said. “He also made sure the theatre was open on prom night so that the kids who didn’t have a date would have a place to go and have fun.”

    Larson, McCall said simply, “helped me find my home inside the walls of a theatre." 

    Larson was never much of a drinker, but he didn’t want his students to drink, and he didn't want his own children to, either. So he led by his own example and gave up alcohol in the mid-1980s. He asked every student to sign a pledge promising not to drink, smoke or chew tobacco while working on one of his theatre productions.

    “He held his theatre kids to a higher standard,” Fritton said. “Proudly.”

    Son Brady calls Larson “an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat of a man. He was a husband, father, grandfather, theatre teacher and a Colorado Rockies baseball enthusiast who worked blissfully at Coors Field after his retirement.”

    Wally Larson
    Wally Larson in hic classroom. Photo courtesy of Heather Larson Fritton.


    Wallace Alfred Larson was born Aug. 21, 1940, on the family farm near Pelican Rapids, Minn. His father, Alf, was a farmer, and his mother, Mildred, a schoolteacher. Wally and siblings JoAnn, Richard and Dale attended a one-room schoolhouse through 6th grade.  He graduated from Pelican Rapids High School in 1958 and spent two years at Dakota Business College. He then enrolled at at Moorhead State College, where he met the two great loves of his life: Theatre and Diane Monear.

    The couple were married in the summer of 1965 and moved to Littleton to pursue careers as teachers. They marked their 50th anniversary last summer by taking the whole family to a cabin retreat in Battle Lake, Minn. Wally and Diane privately celebrated, Fritton said, by sneaking off for a moonlight fishing trip.

    Wally Larson QuoteThe Larsons raised three children - Brady, Heather, and Drew - and Fritton said being born of two teachers came with high expectations. “If I ever came home with an A-minus," she said, "they would ask why it wasn’t an A."

    It’s no coincidence, she believes, that the children of these two teachers grew up to become a writer, an actor and an artist.

    “Having a general thirst for knowledge of the world was always part of our upbringing,” Fritton said. The Larsons were the kind of family that would take road trips, and actually stop and read the informational signs at every rest stop.

    Larson enjoyed acting as a young man and never wanted to teach anything other than theatre. He was hired at Douglas County High School in 1966 and directed his first all-school musical the next year: Bye Bye Birdie.

    On most Saturday mornings, Wally would drive all of his children to school, where they would help paint and build sets while mom sewed costumes.

    Summertime was family time. “We spent many summers on road trips and visits to the lakes in Minnesota, camping and family bike rides,” Brady said. “He was a loving and involved father. He proudly attended many school plays, dance recitals, choir concerts, art shows, and was always up for a game of catch.”

    Larson gave his theatre students the challenge – and in some cases the unprecedented opportunity – to take on meaningful, consequential and sometimes controversial stage titles such as Carnival, Equus, Man of La Mancha, The Foreigner, Noises Off and Into the Woods.

    Wally Larson 8003“His favorite plays were the really hard plays that you typically don’t see high-school theatres do,” Fritton said.

    After being present throughout her father’s production of Man of La Mancha, Fritton remembers singing the song Dulcinea to her classmates – her kindergarten classmates. The 5-year-old didn’t realize then the woman in the song is tormented and then brutally raped. “I just thought it was beautiful – and emotional,” Fritton said with a laugh.

    She also saw her father’s Equus at age 8 or 9. That’s the story of a boy who blinds six horses with a metal spike after attempting to make love for the first time. “I didn’t realize what the story was about,” Fritton said, “but I just loved watching my dad pull that kind of intensity out of his students.”

    After 22 years at Douglas County High School, Larson took on the challenge of building a new theatre program from scratch at Highlands Ranch High School, where he worked for another 11 years.

    He was proud whenever his graduates made it to Broadway, but that was never his barometer for success, Fritton said.

    “He didn’t care whether they ended up in the theatre,” she said. “He wanted them to go out and live successful lives in whatever fields they chose.”

    Larson’s retirement in 1998 led to his second dream job - with the Colorado Rockies, which lasted another 16 years. “He started at the gate, and then became supervisor of the Rock Pile seating section in center field,” Brady said. “He quickly moved up to the Command Center Team Leader, where he was in charge of emergency dispatch - all the while having an incredible view of every home game.”

    Larson enjoyed working on his land, trimming trees, gardening with his wife and taking cross-country road trips. He was also the grandfather of six. “He taught them important life lessons such as how to gather firewood, how to build a tree house - and how to yell at a fishing pole!” Brady said.

    Larson spent his final week taking in spring-training baseball games in Arizona. “He was relaxing by the pool alongside his kids and grandkids, with hope eternal for a winning Rockies season,” Brady said.

    McCall said Larson believed theatre has the capacity to hold a mirror up to human nature in all its forms: Beautiful and ugly, confrontational and compassionate. “He challenged us to think and express our beliefs, challenge our assumptions about life, and also allowed us to give joy, and find joy with others and in ourselves,” she said.  

    “And in the midst of creating theatre, the lessons in the costume shop, the scene shop and lighting grid, we learned valuable life lessons. We learned that the only failure is in not trying - that we have more inside of us to give than we can begin to imagine.”

    Malone will never forget seeing her classmate who played Maria in West Side Story sweeping the stage before a performance. “Through these seemingly small acts, he helped us lucky few realize our own innate wisdom and compassion for each other,” Malone said. "But he never said that's what he was doing. ... He just said, ‘Sweep the stage.’ ”

    Larson is survived by his wife Diane; his children, Brady, Heather, and Drew; his grandchildren, Zane, Jack, Norah, Remington, Teagan, and Quinlan; his sister JoAnn Neu (Melvin), and his brothers, Richard (Linda) and Dale (Marsha).


    Memorial Celebration for Wally Larson

    • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 1
    • Denver Center for the Performing Arts
    • Conservatory Theatre (in the Newman Center for Theatre Education)
    • 1101 13th St. (corner of Arapahoe and 13th street. MAP IT

    Memorial contributions

    Donations can be made in Larson’s name to the Educational Theatre Association, which provide scholarships for high school students to pursue theatre studies in college. CLICK HERE. (Please indicate on the donation form that the funds are for Scholarships for Students, and in memory of Wally Larson.)

    Wally Larson
POPULAR POSTS
 
ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.