Sheila Francisco’s upcoming first solo concert, “Once in a Lifetime,” has been a long-time dream of hers. For years, the seasoned theater actress has been keeping a journal where she jots down songs for a possible line-up, in case she gets to have her own show.
Now that dream is coming true as Francisco gets the spotlight to herself in the concert that happens on Aug. 21, 7:30 p.m., at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater). It is part of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ “Triple Threats” concert series which features the “leading men and women of Philippine musical theater.”
Francisco says she was surprised when CCP vice president and artistic director Chris Millado told her she was “next.” In 2013, CCP’s “Triple Threats” series featured Nonie Buencamino, Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo.
“I had to make sure, and only until it was final did I believe it was really happening,” Francisco says. “Of course, a solo concert has been something I’ve always wanted, and it’s an important part of my career as a theater actor.”
Her repertoire will include songs from musicals, torch songs, some Barbra Streisand and original songs from local musicals. She listed “so many” songs on that journal that it was a challenge to come up with final lineup.
“Through the help of my friends who are part of the production, we came up with a selection of songs that would tell my story,” she says.
Among the guest performers are her sisters Carol Francisco and Poe Blay, the Trumpets Playshop kids and “a very popular theater performer.”
Francisco is currently playing Nat, a blunt but caring mom, in Red Turnip Theater’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” which also stars Agot Isidro, Michael Williams, Che Ramos Cosio and Ross Pesigan.
While performing has always been Francisco’s passion, she is quite a late bloomer in theater.
“I started out in theater in my 30s. Before that, I was singing in a band on the side of my advertising job,” says Francisco.
She has always been into music and theater, influenced by her dad Ramon Francisco, a lawyer. Francisco recalls listening to records and watching musicals with her dad and wanting to major in music in University of the Philippines, but was discouraged because of political issues at that time.
Besides, she did not see theater as a financially rewarding career choice. So she took up Communication Arts in Maryknoll College, went into advertising after graduation, and filled in her performance craving by singing in a band.
From doing small shows, she was spotted by director Freddie Santos, who asked her to play a bit role in Trumpets’ production of “Joseph the Dreamer.” On stage, Francisco realized that theater was her true passion.
“I tried to do both advertising and theater at the same time, but eventually theater won. I quit my advertising job, and performed in one show after another.”
Francisco had been doing mostly Trumpets productions when she got her big international break. She was first cast as the Midwife in Singapore Action Theater’s production of “Chang and Eng.” John Robertson, executive producer of Cameron Mackintosh’s musicals in the Asia Pacific Region, watched her and was impressed with her performance.
This led to her auditioning for the role of Bloody Mary in a 2001 revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “South Pacific” before legendary director Trevor Nunn himself at the Royal National Theatre in London. She got the part.
“I arrived in London at 5 a.m., auditioned at 2 p.m., and was offered the role of Bloody Mary at 5 p.m.,” she recalls. (Variety called her performance “the show’s primary coup.”)
After that, she went back to Singapore and did musicals such as “Forbidden City,” “Portrait of an Empress,” “Twist of Fate,” “The Full Monty,” “Into the Woods.”
Among her local Trumpets shows, meanwhile, have been “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Noah” and “The Bluebird of Happiness.”
She was also seen as the Mother Abbess in Resorts World Manila’s “Sound of Music,” Dolores in 4th Wall Theater Company’s “Rivalry: Ateneo-La Salle, The Musical,” Flora in “No Way To Treat a Lady,” and Violet Weston and Mattie Fae in “August: Osage County”—the last two productions with Repertory Philippines.
On the side, Francisco helps run Franciscan Home Cooked Flavors, a Filipino-Spanish restaurant in Makati, with her sister Carol.
For “Once in a Lifetime,” the friends she gained in theater also make up her team. The project managers are Sandie Molina Javier and Leah Reyes. Writing the show is Roselyn Perez, while the musical director is Beth Martin, creative consultant is Moy Ortiz, and her choreographer is long-time friend Audie Gemora.
“I am excited. I expect theater lovers to watch it. It falls on a holiday, and I hope that it would not be just once in a lifetime,” Francisco says. “I was named Sheila, which I learned later on means music. My dad would have been very proud.”
“Once in a Lifetime” is on Aug. 21, 7:30 p.m., at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater), Roxas Blvd., Pasay City. Visit ticketworld.com.ph or call 8919999.