Gilbert theater creates magical under-the-sea kingdom for “The Little Mermaid”

The Little Mermaid, Hale Centre Theatre, Gilbert
Caelan Creaser stars as Princess Ariel in Hale Center Theatre’s “The Little Mermaid,” onstage in July 7-Aug. 19 at Hale Centre Theatre in Gibert. Photos by David Dietlein, courtesy of Hale Centre Theatre.

Despite the wishes of her father, King Triton, young mermaid Ariel longs to become part of the human world above the sea. When she saves the life of the handsome Prince Eric, they fall in love, but how can this work?

That’s the ultimate question in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Promising joyful music and an ocean of fun, Hale Centre Theatre  in Gilbert brings the musical to the stage July 7-Aug. 19. The production is directed by ariZoni Award winner Cambrian James and musically directed by Elizabeth Spencer.

Ariel’s tale became a Disney movie in 1989, winning two Oscars; then it became a Broadway musical in 2008 that was nominated for two Tony Awards. It’s good timing to stage the production for little Princess Ariel fans, who are unable to see/buy the animated film that is sealed away in the Disney vault — presumably for reintroduction before its 30th anniversary. More than one live-action version of the story also is in the works.

By taking the role of Ariel for the Hale’s production, Caelan Creaser gets to play her favorite Disney character. Born and raised near Seattle, Washington, Caelan is an Arizona State University student who previously made her Hale Centre Theatre debut as Millie Dillmount in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

The Little Mermaid, Hale Centre Theatre, Gilbert
Melissa VanSlyke stars as Ursula the sea witch in Hale Centre Theatre’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Matt Krantz is Prince Eric — his first role in Arizona since moving here from Utah, where he studied music, dance and theater at Brigham Young University. In the role of the evil sea witch Ursula is Melissa VanSlyke, who previously played Trix in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and Betty Jean Reynolds in “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” both at the Hale. 

Familiar with the role of Ariel from having watched “The Little Mermaid” many times while growing up, Caelan says Ariel was her favorite princess because her songs resonated the most with her. “Ariel has a gift of having ‘her mother’s voice,’” she says, “and being a singer myself, that is what connected me to Ariel. For me as a little girl, it was fun to sing along to her songs!”

When it comes to playing the part, the challenge for Caelan is to have “her be a princess who still has some spunk … so little girls can look up to her.” She wants to be sure Ariel isn’t portrayed as passive, but as “a strong young lady.”

Physically, Caelan faces another challenge as well, and that’s learning to maneuver on the Heelys — tennis shoes with wheels —that Ariel and all the mersisters wear to make it look as if they’re underwater.

The Little Mermaid, Hale Centre Theatre, Gilbert
Hale Centre Theatre brings “The Little Mermaid” to the Gilbert stage July 7–Aug. 19. Matt Krantz stars as Price Eric and Caelan Creaser is Ariel.

“We’re pulling out all the stops for this show,” says Hale producer David Dietlein. That includes using special underwater effects to create other-worldly, beneath-the-sea movements suitable for characters in a magical beneath-the-sea kingdom. In addition, there will be “exquisite costumes, glowing shells and enchanting music,” he says, that “all add up to an evening of exhilarating entertainment for children and adults alike.”

Caelan couldn’t agree more. “I’m just so excited for this show,” she says. “The cast is amazing. And what Hale is doing with it — all the Disney magic is going to be spectacular.”

If you go: July 7-Aug. 19. 7 p.m. select Tuesdays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Ave., Gilbert. $32; $20 ages 5-17. 480-497-1181 or