The classic children's tale Peter Pan is getting a dose of girl power.

Jonathan Alver and James Doy, respectively the artistic director and general manager/musical director of the Auckland-based National Youth Theatre Company, say they've honoured J M Barrie's original story but crafted a fresh version more appealing to 21st century kids and families.

That means putting Wendy, the girl who befriends Peter and flies to Neverland with him, centrestage.

With 20 new songs, all written and composed by Alver and Doy, Wendy is the hero in the more feminist take on Peter Pan, the story of the boy who wouldn't grow up. While there are other adaptations of the play, the duo hopes theirs will appeal to theatre companies around the world.

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Nicole Wilson, Emily Robinson & Alice Hanson share the role of Wendy in a new version of Peter Pan, about to be staged in Auckland.
Nicole Wilson, Emily Robinson & Alice Hanson share the role of Wendy in a new version of Peter Pan, about to be staged in Auckland.

"In the old story, Wendy's traditionally been seen as a mother figure and we didn't want to play that card," says Alver, a former general director of NZ Opera.

"We wanted her to be a strong young woman who takes on the world but we didn't want to leave boys out. What we want to say is that when you let women have an equal share, the world can be a better place."

The story remains in Neverland, where Wendy visits Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and the Lost Boys. However, other characters have been transformed. Gone are the "Red Indians" but Tiger Lily stays, in a different form, as a determined organiser who teaches Wendy a thing or two about leadership. A mermaid, traditionally a small player in the Peter Pan stories, is there to talk about the importance of not living life on the surface and acts like fairy godmother to Wendy.

Nicole Wilson, 16, Alice Hanson, 17, and Emily Robinson, 16, will each play Wendy and say they're excited about the prospects of playing her more plucky than passive.

Hanson says Wendy certainly has more depth now, which is much more fun to play.

"In the original, she was a bit dumbed down and just kind of got swept along with everything," says Robinson.

Jonathan Alver, artistic director and general manager of the National Youth Theatre Company.
Jonathan Alver, artistic director and general manager of the National Youth Theatre Company.

Alver and Doy say it's not unusual to carefully consider whether older stories, like traditional fairy-tales, are suitable for today's audiences and alter them accordingly.

In November, a UK mother made headlines when she suggested Sleeping Beauty should be banned from primary school libraries because it could send the wrong message that a non-consensual kiss was okay. In the story, Prince Phillip kisses Sleeping Beauty to break the curse that has seen her sleep for 100 years.

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"We always look at our stories and treat them as sensitively as we can in the current environment," Alver said.

"You've got to think about the moral standards of the times. When we staged The Sound of Music, we had long talks with the kids about World War II and Nazis."

Peter Pan is the NYTC's 26th production in 12 years and the care taken around re-imagining the story shows running a kids' theatre company isn't child's play. As well as treading delicately with the stories they tell, company founders and directors have to think about providing enough roles for those clamouring to join.

James Doy, musical director of the National Youth Theatre Company.
James Doy, musical director of the National Youth Theatre Company.

Peter Pan

stars 280 youngsters, aged 7—21 from all over Auckland, and there's a waiting list of 130 kids who want to join the company. Doy, a keyboardist for productions such as

Wicked

and

Matilda

, says putting up a cast notice was like watching an Adele concert sell-out. A notice was posted at 11am; by 11.03am all places had been filled.

Bex Ring, 30, helped found the company in 2005 and can't believe how much it continues to grow. Ring believes that's because it provides opportunities to all those who wish to take part, regardless of their experience or level of skill. It also allows kids to develop skills and experiences which they can use throughout their lives.

Proof of that comes from Hamish Mouat, 24, and now the company manager and choreographer. Mouat appeared in the first production, Oliver Twist in 2005, and now works full-time as a choreographer.

"It's become my livelihood because of what I got out of belonging to this company," he says.

Ask why theatre is so popular and they say the TV series Glee played a major part in encouraging kids into theatre. They've also seen many more boys join.

"And don't think they don't play rugby as well," says Alver.

"We have to have rehearsals on Sundays so as not to clash with their Saturday rugby games …"

Lowdown
What: National Youth Theatre Company Peter Pan — a new musical
Where & when: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre; December 7—9