Stephens plays Improv, MacDonald answers the call |

Stephens plays Improv, MacDonald answers the call

Howie Nave, Lake Tahoe Action

Multi-talented James Stephens III tickles the ivory funnybones through Sunday at the Improv at Harveys Resort and Casino.

James Stephens III probably could have gone the direction of a classically trained pianist (or pop musician, his choice), an actor or even a full-time impressionist. Why not all three?

James has been able to utilize all of those attributes in a very impressive comedy show. He was up for the role that went to Jaime Foxx (that earned him an Oscar for Best Actor) for the life and times of Ray Charles in the 2004 movie, “Ray.” His rendition of Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful” is really uncanny.

James, who has a very polished act, has performed on the “Dana Carvey” and “Stephanie Miller” shows, appeared on numerous late night talk shows and comedy specials. Can you believe there was a time he actually practiced law before becoming a comedian? I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise since so many comics have come from well-established careers only to do an “about face” and follow their passion, which just happened to be an occupation as a standup.

James’ versatility makes for a fast-moving, ever-changing lineup of funny characters. He has a quick wit, including improvisational skills, able to customize each performance so it’s like each audience member is getting a different show all week. In other words, no two shows are ever the same, as James involves the entire audience in each performance.

His impressions include Bill Cosby, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Prince, Babyface and many more. James Stephens’ television credits include Fox’s “The Edge,” MTV’s “1/2 Hour Comedy Hour,” Comedy Central, HBO, VH-1, Black Entertainment Television (BET), Apollo Comedy Hour, NBC’s “Friday Night Videos,” “Showtime at the Apollo” and “Ray Charles: 50 Years in Music.”

I realize it’s tough to get booked onto our room, because the crowds are great, you only have to do one show a night (except Saturday, when we do two) and the obvious: you get to be in Tahoe for a week. So after Tracey MacDonald – who makes her second appearance here this week – sent me photos of her native Nova Scotia saying, “I miss my home but Tahoe is the next best thing” and “I’d like to bring you a present from Nova Scotia,” I called her up when I had an unexpected opening.

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(We are booked solid through the rest of the year, so unless somebody cancels their week, which is pretty rare for up here, you can’t get booked back until sometime next year.)

Now that she’s returning to Tahoe, let’s see why Tracey was such a big deal in Nova Scotia. Before relocating to Los Angeles she won on the “New Star Search with Host Arsenio Hall.” OK, she did more than just win. Tracey was the first comedian to win four times on CBS’s “Star Search” and was awarded a two-year development deal with CBS television. She’s also been on the E! Network, “Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen,” and entertained American troops overseas in Afghanistan, Kandahar and Kabul.

When Tracey was in Canada she made numerous television appearances before getting some very nice press here in this country and moving to southern California. Variety Magazine did a very nice piece on her after performing along with comedians Sarah Silverman, Bob Saget, Dane Cook and Jay Mohr.

When not on the road, Tracey likes watching the Lifetime Network and movies while living in Hollywood with her plant.

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