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James Stephens III


Calling James Stephens III an impressionist is a little bit like calling Earl Turner a singer, for they both transcend their respective labels and shoot for that cherished casino-room tag: entertainer. Each works a room better than a presidential candidate in New Hampshire. Stephens, who is in the middle of a 12-week run at Harrah's, probably knows too well that the days of Frank Gorshin and Rich Little are long gone; he uses his formidable singing and piano-playing skills to dash in and out of medleys, which at their best crash at the intersection of country and hip -- though the Texas bluegrass band the Gourds might take issue with just who was the first one to put the redneck twang in Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice." Stephens has opened for a wide range of big-name artists, including Aretha Franklin, Julio Iglesias and Gloria Estefan, and has appeared on MTV and Ceomdy Central. What's perhaps most intriguing about his set -- beyond its persistent dose of energy -- is the way Stephens (sometimes awkwardly) infuses his own biography into the set. An African-American, he was raised at a relatively young age by a white couple, and you can see the culture clash -- and hear the versatility of accents -- throughout his set. He gets the big warm fuzzy by donating the proceeds of sales of his book and DVD to his own nonprofit foundation. His appearance is another in an impressive set of appearances as part of Harrah's "Improv" series. (Bill Engvall's due up on July 16.) Tickets $19.95 general admission, $24.95 VIP seating, $32 buffet/show.

HarrahÕs New Orleans Casino, Earl Turner Theatre, 512 Canal St., 533-6000;
8 p.m. Wednesday & Sunday, June 29 and July 3; 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, June 30-July 2; through Aug. 21


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