A Q&A with Kenny Moten, Director of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Tackling the Beast: A Q&A with Kenny Moten, Director of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

By Leslie Simon

While Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, director Kenny Moten has looked at ways to make the iconic musical feel fresh while still delivering the story that generations of kids now know and love.

We talked to him about his process in creating the upcoming Arvada Center production, providing characters with more depth, and his favorite holiday tradition.

Arvada Center: We are excited to have you directing our upcoming production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. How did you feel when asked to direct? Is there an intimidation factor with directing something with the word “Disney” attached?

Kenny Moten: No intimidation factor, but a little…. pressure to get the moments right, because it’s so iconic in culture. I think that with my age, the resurgence of Disney - that golden age in the early 90s, late 80s - really was such a part of my life.  I really wanted to get it right for everybody, the kids AND the parents. Because everybody is such a fan!

AC: Does Beauty and the Beast mean anything to you personally?

KM: It’s more than “beauty is only skin deep” to me. So that was always an exciting piece of getting to direct it. Coming out of the pandemic, I think it is so much about isolation, with both Belle and the Beast. They’re isolated people surrounded by their communities, but they still feel like loners. That’s what I really wanted to bring out of this - they find each other, and then they create their own community with each other. That’s what the story has always been about for me, and I think it resonated even more at this particular time in the world. 

AC: You and choreographer Jessica Hindsley have a deep friendship. What makes working with her fun?

KM: We started directing and choreographing together sixteen years ago, and she is the longest relationship I have ever had with someone I created with, in terms of a collaborative partner. So it’s 98% fun, but since we are such great friends, even in that 2% where it can go off the rails a little bit, we have our own language, we have our own thing.

So often we can finish each other’s sentences. When you are doing something of this scale, it’s necessary and always a lot of fun. She is my favorite artist to collaborate with, out of anyone that I’ve worked with. 

AC: If the two of you have this shorthand with each other, how do you make sure that the rest of the crew also understands what you are trying to communicate?

KM: We set that expectation on the first day. If there is something that doesn’t make sense, please put your hand up and let us know! But we generally have a good plan going in, and one of the things that I love about working with Jess is we can split, and the message never changes. We know that we are on the same path. We can watch a scene, and she will already know the tweaks I'm going to make. I can watch her rehearse in the studio, and before I can even say “I think this transition…” she’s like “I know, let me get into it in the next pass.” So it’s just great to work with one of your best friends. 

AC: That’s so fun, it must feel so comforting. 

KM: It really is, and I hope that actors and other artists feel that in the room during the process.

AC: Can you walk us through your process when preparing to direct a big production like this?

KM: I typically start with visuals. Iconic pictures in my head of what I want to see and then work from there. With this show, I’m so familiar with the movie, I watched the VHS growing up probably way too much, and I also saw the original Broadway production.

So I started thinking about the visuals in the film and original production, and tried to figure out “how do we make this our own and let these iconic moments live in a different way?” The 90s were a while ago now, so how do we make this feel fresh, and how do we make it for a new generation of young people and families?

AC: Was there anything unique about your process with this production?

KM: With Beauty and the Beast, I just feel it is so iconic; you typically don’t have so many pictures and visuals in your head. It’s very exact, what Disney has done with this, and I just wanted to open it up to some new interpretations. And that’s what kind of led the charge in this process.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted Belle to be a more “whole” character.  What more is there to that character? So we are playing with making her an inventor like her father. We’re giving her more reasons for that quirkiness of her character, her loner sort of attitude, than I believe she has been given in the past. It’s such a big piece of pop culture, that I kind of worked from the content that we already had, and from there went “how do we make it new?”

AC: What parts are you most excited for audiences to see?

KM: I’m really excited for them to see “Be Our Guest” the most! But with working at the Arvada Center, with all the artists and designers, I’m excited for everyone to see the capabilities of the organization overall. Everyone knows that the Arvada Center produces great shows, this is just stretching what everybody does, and it’s exciting to watch.

From the scenic design to costumes to this excellent cast, I’m really excited for audiences to see how everyone is really pushing themselves to make this extravaganza. It’s such a fun show. Normally the tech process is not everybody’s most fun time, yet there is a lot of laughter and fun happening. It’s just so great to see all the pieces come together. 

Watch: Costume designer (and our Costume Shop Manager) Sarah Stark breaks down the process of designing these iconic costumes.

AC: When we sat in on rehearsals recently, it was so clear how much fun everyone was having.

KM: It’s seriously so fun. And I’m still getting surprised, so I am so excited for the audience to feel that. 

Rae Leigh Case, Barret Harper and Zina Ellis in rehearsal, photo by Leslie Simon

AC: At the Arvada Center we love our tradition of having a big, flashy musical during the holiday season. Do you have any holiday traditions you are excited about?

KM: Me and my husband’s families always come to our house, so we host. For two days! Everybody comes over the afternoon of Christmas Eve and leaves the evening of Christmas Day. I like hosting people, this is not a stressful thing for me, I love to do it. I think that is the best gift you can give, I tell everyone “you don’t have to bring anything except whatever gifts you have, and yourselves.” 

AC: That’s a generous gift! Well thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Is there anything else you would like audiences to know?

KM: I was telling Jacob Kenworthy (Director of Production) that it’s just been so wonderful to be in a situation where I feel so supported. It doesn’t always happen, when you are directing shows. At the Arvada Center though, it is the most supported Jess and I have ever felt when it comes to getting a production ready to go.

And it’s also been fun! I always say to the cast any time someone gets upset “hey, it’s better than Zoom!” Remember when we were all crying on Zoom? It’s really nice to be back in the rehearsal room and on stage. I just really want the Arvada Center audiences to know what a great team is here, and how exciting it is to be back producing theatre. 

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