At first glance, RxBenefits’ PBM Change Coordinator Flannery Whaley might not strike you as a seasoned composer, actress, lyricist, and musician. If you pass by her in the office or interact with her via the phone or email, you might notice her bright smile or her infectious personality – without ever realizing she’s one of the more accomplished performers in the Birmingham theatre scene.
“I started performing at age nine, in a production of Oliver!,” Flannery said. “I spent most of my summers growing up with my grandparents in Florence, Alabama, which has a pretty robust theatre community. I think my grandmother encouraged me to try out as a way to get me out of the house.”
Even before her first role, though, Flannery was captivated by music and musical theatre.
A Star Is Born
“My family said I began playing the piano at age three,” she said. “I don’t really remember starting, just like you don’t really remember when you learned to read. It’s just something I’ve always done.”
Although playing music seemed to come naturally to her, Flannery said that talent didn’t automatically transfer to other areas.
“I couldn’t always sing. I was terrible as a kid,” she said, with a laugh. “I rented Mary Poppins over and over when I was little. I learned all the songs and sang them constantly. But I finally started taking voice lessons when I was 16, and that helped a lot.”
The lessons helped so much, in fact, that Flannery attended the University of Montevallo majoring in Vocal Performance. Her participation in various productions and shows (including Montevallo’s renowned College Night, an intramural theatre competition that began in 1919) gave her an introduction to many members of the Birmingham theatre scene.
In just the past 10 years, Flannery has performed in more than 25 theatre productions in a variety of roles, and she’s written musical scores and lyrics for 14 film and theatre productions. The first original score she created was for Dead Ahead, a 2008 horror movie. Since then, she’s created original scores for five other films, and composed music and written lyrics for eight theatrical productions. One of the films for which she created the score was another horror movie, 2016’s Show Yourself.
“I love writing music, even more so than performing on the stage,” she said. “It’s gratifying to create something and then pass it along, to see how it becomes part of a whole. I like being in the background anyway, so it suits me.”
“In the theatre you have a sense of community, a family outside of your real family,” she said. “You learn to really listen to people and react to what they say. And no performance is ever exactly the same; something is always different every time. I like not knowing what’s going to happen.”
Flannery admits being so involved in the theatre can be very difficult at times. “When you’re in a production, it’s tough,” she said. “You get up and go to your day job, then you go straight from there to rehearsal, or a performance. You’re at the theatre until 9:30 or 10 p.m., then you go home, go to bed, and then do it all over again the next day, for weeks on end.
Fortunately, Flannery and her husband, Matt, both enjoy acting and singing. They met during a performance of Next Fall, and occasionally still work together in the same production. That’s the case for their most recent performance. They played a husband and wife in You Can’t Take It With You, which had a two-week run in November 2019.
“It definitely helps that my husband is involved,” she said. “For those who don’t understand this life, it can be hard, but he gets it because he loves it too. We work well together.
“It’s not a hobby, really; it’s more of a lifestyle.”