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The Charm

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They say the third time's a charm, but Voices of the South's completely charming festival of children's theater, which launches its third installment at Rhodes College this weekend, had us at hello.

Voices was founded in 1995 by Jenny Odle Madden and Alice Berry, a pair of witty, deliciously over-the-top actors who fell in love with narrative storytelling and Southern fiction while studying with University of Memphis professor Gloria Baxter. Helmed by fellow alum Jerre Dye, the company has since staged new interpretations of stories by William Faulkner and Eudora Welty while introducing Memphis theatergoers to unforgettable original characters such as Steve Swift's popular Sister Myotis. But when Voices turns its attention to children's theater, attention must be paid, because making smart, funny, surprising, beautifully conceived children's theater like the quirky rock-and-roll anti-musical Wilhelmina Millicent's Wonderful World of Imagination might just be what the company does best.

Sadly, Ms. Millicent won't be around for this year's festival, though Voices is reviving their popular interpretation of The Ugly Duckling and retelling Greek tales such as Pandora's Box. They will be joined in their efforts by other local companies, including Chatterbox Theatre, which will perform an audio interpretation of Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi, and Theatre Memphis' Showagon, which will be presenting Aesop's Fables. Mime Darius Wallace will be on hand, as will the explosive, inspiring drum and dance troupe Watoto De Afrika.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, Voices also will host a musical-theater jam featuring Memphis high school companies performing selections from Disney's High School Musical, Godspell, and Mulan.

"The Third Annual Memphis Children's Theatre Festival," Friday, May 23rd, 6 p.m., and Saturday, May 24th, 9 a.m., at Rhodes College. Tickets for opening night are $10. Saturday is "pay what you can" all day. For more information, call 726-0800 or visit voicesofthesouth.org.

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