• 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

  • 'Motown The Musical': How Berry Gordy turned a slogan into The Supremes

    by John Moore | Feb 05, 2015


    Berry Gordy Jr. changed the landscape of American music when he founded Motown Records in 1959. And Motown Records changed the landscape of the world.

    On Jan. 12, 1959, the 28-year-old obtained a loan of $800 from his family to start Motown. He set up his Detroit headquarters in a modest house emblazoned with an immodest sign: “Hitsville U.S.A.” The slogan was premature, but prophetic. The company had its first hit record in 1960, and between 1961 and 1971 landed 163 singles in Billboard magazine’s Top 20, including 28 songs that reached No. 1.
      Clifton Oliver as Berry Gordy in 'Motown the Musical.' Photo by Joan MarcusGordy, now 87, discovered, developed, and launched the careers of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, The Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, and Marvin Gaye – to name just a few – and Motown became the most successful business owned and operated by an African-American in the United States.

    “The love we felt for each other when we were playing is the most undisputed truth about our music,” Gordy said. “I sometimes referred to our sound as a combination of rats, roaches, soul, guts and love.” 

    Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul is told in Motown the Musical, which will be performed in Denver from March 31 through April 19 at the Buell Theatre.

    Although Motown was home mostly to black artists, Gordy envisioned the music as “the sound of young America” – and by that he meant Americans of all colors and ethnicities. He started Motown just before the civil rights movement was in full flower, when neighborhoods throughout the country remained segregated, and music by black artists was mostly relegated to black radio stations and the chitin’ circuit.

    But Gordy and his team of writers, producers, in-house musicians and vocalists created fresh sound, an amalgam of gospel, blues and mainstream pop. Gordy endeavored to reach across the racial divide with music that could touch all people, and barriers began to tumble. Motown’s artists became a staple on mainstream white radio stations and at top venues around the world. Blacks and whites were seen dancing together at concerts. 

    The following is part of Gordy’s story, in his own words:

    Motown The Musical 2017
    Photo gallery: To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Joan Marcus.

    On Motown’s unlikely rise to the top: How did you do it?
    Hitsville had an atmosphere that allowed people to experiment creatively and gave them the courage not to be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, I sometimes encouraged mistakes. Everything starts as an idea, and as far as I was concerned, there were no stupid ones. “Stupid” ideas are what created the light bulb, airplanes and the like. … It was an atmosphere that made you feel no matter how high your goals, they were reachable, no matter who you were. I had always figured that less than 1 percent of all the people in the world reach their full potential. I realized that by helping others reach theirs, maybe I could reach mine.

    Obstacles faced by black artists prior to Motown:
    The biggest obstacle faced by talented black artists was having a place to go – a record company where they would be accepted, where the records would be distributed, get played, and where they would get paid. Another obstacle was an artist having access to great material and great production in order to get a hit record.

    How Motown changed the culture at white radio stations:
    Most black artists, I feel, were ignored because of segregation and the music industry’s blatant pigeonholing of artists as “Rhythm and Blues,” “Rock’ n Roll” or “Pop.” When I started out, I wanted music for all people: the cops and robbers, the rich and poor, the black and white, the Jews and the Gentiles. When I went to the white radio stations to get my records played, they would laugh at me. They thought I was trying to bring black music to white people, to “cross over,” and I said, “Wait a minute; it’s not really black music. It’s music by black stars.” I refused to be categorized. They called my music all kinds of stuff: Rhythm and Blues, Soul. And I said, “Look, my music is Pop. Pop means popular. If you sell a million records, you’re popular.” And that’s what we did.

    What made your music popular?
    I believed it’s what’s in the grooves that counts. Our music con­veyed basic feelings, cutting through cultural and language barriers. Every project I do – records, movies, TV or Broadway play – that’s what I have in mind. It’s all the same. I felt that people were all the same, that people have so much in common, and that our similarities were so much more powerful than our differences. So we just put out our music. We worked hard to deliver to people things like joy, love, and desire, the emotions that people felt but couldn’t always express.

    Motown the Musical


    On reaching white audiences:
    We released some of our early albums without showing the artists’ faces on them. The Marvelettes’ album Please Mr. Postman had a picture of a mailbox on it; Bye Bye Baby by Mary Wells, a love letter. We put a cartoon of an ape on the cover of the Miracles’ Doin’ Mickey’s Monkey; and an Isley Brothers album had two white lovers at the beach on its cover. This practice became less necessary as our music’s popularity started overcoming the prejudices.

    The committee approach to choosing records:
    In many ways, Hitsville was like growing up in the Gordy family— fierce closeness and fierce competition and constant collaboration.  I believed competition breeds champions.  I knew that competition could be a very effective tool in getting results, so I set up Quality Control, a system I had heard about at Lincoln-Mercury. The Friday morning product evaluation meetings were the lifeblood of our operation. That was when we picked the records we would release. Careers depended on the choices made those Friday mornings. Some of the employees who came to the meetings weren’t creative people, but I felt their reactions to the songs would be like those of the average record buyer. A noncreative person’s vote counted just as much as a creative person’s. I took the democratic approach because although I was in charge at Motown, I made logic the boss: no egos or politics allowed. Not even mine. And I did it because of truth. “The truth is a hit,” was what we used to say in our Quality Control meetings at Motown.

    Touring the South
    Things were very bad when we went to the South. I remembered in 1955 how terrified I was when I'd heard about Emmett Till, a 14-year-old kid from Chicago who was visiting relatives in Mississippi. Dragged from his grandfather's home, he was beaten unmercifully, lynched and his body was thrown in the Tallahatchie River. I couldn't believe it when I heard that his crime was “thinking” under a white woman's dress. Thinking! The two white men who had killed him were freed. Our first Motortown Revue started off in Washington, D.C., but as the bus approached Birmingham and other cities in the South, we were greeted with signs of  “Whites Only,” “No Coloreds Allowed.” Then our tour bus was shot at. We were aware of how tough the racial conditions could be – but my artists being shot at? All of a sudden the real world had shown its ugly face. Despite the hostility and racism we faced, we knew we were bringing joy to people. The audiences were segregated. The venues had a rope down the middle of the audience separating blacks from whites, but soon the rope was gone and black kids and white kids were dancing together to the same music. It created a bond that echoed throughout the world.

    Many of the quotes above are taken with permission from Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography, “To Be Loved.”

    Motown the Musical 2017: Ticket information
    Through Feb. 19
    The Buell Theatre
    ASL, Open Caption and Audio Described performance: 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
    Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    800-641-1222 | TTY: 303-893-9582
    Groups (10+): 303-446-4829

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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.

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