Musical masterpiece

College of Central Florida stages a classic in a larger-than-life production.

Collin Williams as Claude Frollo rehearses a scene from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with other cast members during a rehearsal of the play at the College of Central Florida in Ocala on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted March 28, 2024 | By Lisa McGinnes

With a set evoking the grand Parisian landmark and a talented cast of student actors, plus orchestra and choir, College of Central Florida’s (CF) production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” involves more than 70 individuals in a masterpiece of collaborative performing arts.

This modern retelling of the 15th-century tale stays true to the story introduced in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, with songs from the Academy Award-winning musical score of the 1996 Disney animated film, plus new numbers added for the 2014 Broadway-style musical.

“A production of this magnitude is an exciting undertaking for all our students,” said Jason Longtin, CF associate professor of music and the show’s musical director. “This is, by far, the largest collaborative production in my seven years at CF,” he said, explaining that the 21 singers in the onstage choir include CF students, faculty and staff plus community members, who are accompanied by a 17-piece orchestra.

“Our students, staff and community members have worked incredibly hard on bringing this beloved story to life,” Longtin said.

Nonalee Davis, CF assistant professor of theatre and the play’s director, noted this is the biggest show she’s produced on an academic stage.

Melrose Root as Quasimodo, bottom left, and Camila Bran as Esméralda, bottom right, and top, from left, Porter Johnson as a Gargoyle, Taryn Stepinsky as St. Aphrodisius and Sarah Dowlah as a Gargoyle, rehearse a scene. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for these students to do such an epic mainstage show, and I’m so proud of their hard work,” Davis said, adding that the musical is a collaboration between CF theatre, music and dance departments and CF dance instructor Justine McDaniel is the choreographer.

Set designer Tyler Stentiford’s gothic cathedral, with its massive stained glass windows and tall bell tower, takes up every inch of the stage, and the student actors make the most of it, singing and dancing their way through more than 20 songs.

Melrose Root, who said he’s “usually backstage,” brings an endearing charm to his first lead role as Quasimodo. 

“He’s overall just very pure,” Root said of the famous literary character. “He’s got a very open, sweet heart, so I think that’s part of what makes him an enjoyable character. It was super important to me to make sure that I was portraying him correctly as a person with disabilities.”

Collin Williams, returning to the CF stage after appearing as Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in the fall, is enjoying the role of antagonist Dom Claude Frollo.

“He is one of, if not the most, evil Disney villains,” Williams said of the powerful cleric. “And the reason why he is the most evil is because he’s real. He’s not magical, a wizard, or anything like that; he’s just a man.”

Melrose Root as Quasimodo stands on the balcony during a rehearsal. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

Also returning to the CF stage, Camila Bran, who played Lady Agatha in “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” shines as Esmeralda.

“She’s such a fun character,” Bran said of the musical’s female lead, an ethnic Romani, or Gypsy. “She just loves singing and dancing, and that’s exactly what I love to do. It is definitely an honor to be able to represent a minority, being part of the Latina community. It feels great to be able to show people, like little girls out there who are part of this group, that it is possible to follow your dreams in theater or any type of performance and showcase the talent we all have.”

Playing her “favorite character from the cartoon” is Ashlyn Methvin as Clopin, the King of the Gypsies, returning to the CF stage after playing Laura Lyons in “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” this time in a male role complete with mustache and long beard.

“I very much enjoy playing him. He’s a jokester, and he brings so much life to the stage,” Methvin said, adding that, although he does have “some dark elements to him,” the caretaker of the Romani brings “a fun element to the story.”

Captain Phoebus de Martin is played by CF Theatre veteran Kieran Boyle, who said he’s enjoying playing a character with “a lot more volume to him” after last appearing as Mr. Barrymore in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” 

“I think it’s going to be an exciting show for audiences – the amount of voices on stage, the presence, and a sound I don’t think they’ve heard before on this stage, at least for a very long time,” Boyle said. “It’s going to knock their socks off!”

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is live on stage April 4-7 at the CF Dassance Fine Arts Center, 3001 SW College Road. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available online at or by calling (352) 873-5810.

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