Meet the Students of RSP: West Side Story—Frances Vonada

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By Anya Shukla, RSP Marketing Intern

West Side Story is known for its music. Without student music directors, our RSP production would be without iconic numbers like “I Feel Pretty” and “America.” A music director, someone who teaches a show’s music to the cast, is a vital, yet often overlooked part of the creative team. Music directors focus on telling the story through song, and RSP students work diligently with Julia Thornton, the Head Music Director, to do just that. I met with Assistant Music Director Frances Vonada to learn more about music directing and her RSP experience.

What’s your favorite song in West Side Story?

Oh, that’s so hard! I love the “Tonight Quintet.” It’s just so powerful, and it’s great to have everyone onstage. But “Gee, Officer Krupke” is also hilarious.

Could you describe your job?

Music direction for a musical is super important, because music is so integral to the structure of the show. A music director has to think about the show, think about the story. So it’s as much learning notes as it is examining the characters–examining the character’s objectives and tactics, how they’re singing this song to get where they want to be. 

Does the music director work with the director and choreographer to tell the story?

As a part of the creative team, it’s the music directors’ job to direct the overall vision of the show and support the main director. We convey the same amount of story through the music as the director does in a scene and the choreographer displays through movement, so we’re all just working together to convey one cohesive story and one cohesive message. 

Have you done any music directing before?

It’s completely new. I’ve done theater before at my school, but I’d done very little outside of that, and I’ve never done any kind of work as a music director. All of this has been a steep learning curve, because I’m working with adults and kids who’ve done this before. But overall, I’ve learned a ton.

What has your favorite part of the process been so far?

I think the character work is very interesting. Just sitting in with Julia and sometimes in the one-on-one music sessions, talking through a character, talking through their motivations and who they are, that’s been really fascinating. 

Has there been anything unexpected?

The speed at which we’ve worked has been crazy. I’m used to working with the timeline of fourteen, sixteen weeks of rehearsal, but we’re doing a full show in six weeks. It’s the intensity and the focus that we’re working with that has surprised me. 

Could you speak to the mentor-mentee relationship in RSP?

Julia Thorton is the music direction mentor and she has been so incredibly helpful. She’s always been clear and communicative with Tony and me. But then beyond the show, she’s given me a whole lot of advice about college. And she’s also invited me to sit in on some other rehearsals that’s she’s working on.

Are you interested in music direction as a career?

Yes. I think it’s scary, because my parents don’t have any experience in the arts. But I’ve given a lot of thought to what this would actually look like as a career. 

And since this is your first time as a music director, do you think RSP has shaped that decision?

Definitely. A year ago, I didn’t even know what a music director would do. And this has given me a lot of insight into what a rehearsal process actually looks like and how a production works. I haven’t had a ton of experience in other theaters, so just being able to see how The 5th puts on a show and how they direct has been really great. 

Rising Star Project: West Side Story runs July 12-13. Click here for tickets and info. 

Rising Star Project is a tuition-free program made possible through a generous grant from The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation with additional support from the following sponsors: The Hearst Foundations, The Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Susie and Phil Stoller, RealNetworks Foundation, Michael Amend and Jeffrey Ashley, Linda and Kevin Cheung – Start It! Foundation, GM Nameplate, The Jean K. Lafromboise Foundation, Tom and Judi Lindquist, Claudia and Bob Nelson, Todd and Donna Rosenberg, Seattle Rotary Service Foundation, Elizabeth and Gary Sundem, and Becca and Bill Wert.

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