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Local Performing Arts Take Center Stage

Stu Levin hosts KCLU-FM's program featuring interviews, a calendar of events, movie and play reviews and commentary.


"And here, with your red carpet to entertainment news, reviews and interviews is your host, Stu Levin."

Early in April, with that descriptive lead-in, KCLU-FM (88.3) introduced its most recent addition to programs that focus on local people, trends and events--in this case, the performing arts in Ventura County. With what passes for warp speed in the radio world, "Ventura County Curtain Call" was a rapid four weeks from idea to first broadcast.

The show features interviews with artists who live, work or are appearing locally; a calendar of performing arts events in Ventura County; movie and play reviews; and entertainment commentary. And of course, Levin, who may be reason enough to launch a new show, according to KCLU general manager Dan Kuntz.

"When you get the opportunity to have a resource like this one," said Kuntz, referring to Levin, "you have to grab it."

Along with being a working actor--the name for a performer most everyone recognizes, but many can't name--Levin has been, and in some cases continues to be, a film reviewer (for "Entertainment Tonight" among others), a writer, interviewer, archivist, producer, show host (with an Emmy for the PBS series "Old Movies"), research consultant, radio broadcaster, cameraman, entertainment editor and instructor (occasionally at UCLA and currently at the Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory).

He has performed in more than 300 plays and been a guest or recurred on numerous television shows including "Murphy Brown," "Coach," "The George Carlin Show," "Bloopers and Practical Jokes," and "Brooklyn Bridge." In the past two seasons, he has played Jacob Marley's Ghost in the Santa Susana Repertory Company's production of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."


With his involvement in the local dramatic arts scene, Levin said he started wondering why there was no forum to spotlight local talent and performances. Enter KCLU, and its ongoing interest in community-oriented programming. "We try to be as local as we possibly can," said program director Mike West, "and we'd been looking for some way to cover the arts in Ventura County. When we heard about his [Levin's] background, we thought 'This is somebody who could handle it.' "

The show begins with an upbeat jazz intro from Eric Marienthal and jumps right to Levin's review of stage or screen. His critiques are brief, entertaining--and blunt:

Of "Blade to the Heat" at the Mark Taper Forum he said, "Not now, not there."

And of "Celtic Pride" at local theaters came this comment: "I try to say something good about every film I see. This film lasts only 90 minutes--and that's good. Didn't these actors worry about their reputations?"

Levin has a definite philosophy about film review. "You have to review for the audience that will see the film," he said. "You don't review 'Dumb and Dumber' for a 'Sense and Sensibility' audience."

He is also emphatic that he will never include a film's gross revenues in his review. "Grosses are relevant only to the studio's advertising budget," he said.


Next on the show's agenda is a calendar of local performances. The list was a bit sparse in early shows, but is expanding as more groups send information about where and when they will showcase their talents.

The interview segment arrives a third of the way into the show and should not be missed. The premiere broadcast featured a surprisingly serious interview with veteran comedian and USC comedy instructor, Shelley Berman, commenting on what's happened to wit: "It's still there, but we want the quick fix . . . wit requires that we sit and hear it." And on our educational system: "Somewhere along the line, we decided that kids can graduate high school and go to college with fourth-grade reading and no math. It's a great condescension and insult to the American public."

The second week's interview featured actor Lane Davies, a longtime resident of Ventura County, and founder and artistic director of the Santa Susana Repertory Company. He laughingly told Levin why he always gets to play the lead in the company's production of "Cyrano de Bergerac": "My work as artistic director is on a volunteer basis, so I occasionally pick plum roles as my compensation."

Subsequent shows have featured interviews with actor, author and Native American activist Russell Means, who was scheduled for a local book-signing; with radio legend Norman Corwin, whose collection of radio plays is archived at the Thousand Oaks Library; local resident and composer Rick Rhodes, who had just garnered an Emmy for his work on "Guiding Light"; Delores Roth of Westlake's Village Voice Chorale; and players from the youth division of the Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory.

The usual "question list" is absent from a Levin interview. Instead, there is a refreshing willingness to allow the interviewee to complete a whole thought without being rushed to the next question.

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