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Buffy Discovers a Song in Her Heart by Howard Rosenberg of Los Angeles Times

We know that demonically seductive "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" can carry an hour by smoothly mingling humor, action and poignancy. But can it carry a tune?

You'll find out tonight when this unique series, still endearing, smart and effortlessly witty after relocating to UPN from the WB, presents a musical that becomes the hour's plot. One moment Sarah Michelle Gellar's benevolent and resourceful Buffy is saving the world, the next singing and dancing. And executive producer Joss Whedon, who wrote the songs and lyrics, has Buffy wondering just what is going on.

"Did anyone burst into song?" she asks her friends. As a matter of fact, yes. To prove it, they schmooze about it musically as a chorale: "What's this cheery singing all about?"

They're not the only ones, though, for soon we're seeing customers emerging from a cleaners and delivering a thundering aria: "They got the mustard out!" And just look at that poor, distraught woman, singing her protest to a cop giving her a parking ticket: "It isn't right. It isn't fair. There was no parking anywhere. I think that hydrant wasn't there."

In addition to Whedon, clearly something dark and otherworldly is afoot in Buffydom. Could the culprit be Sunnydale's newest resident, a jazzy demon who can't sing a lick but dances gracefully (Tony winner Hinton Battle)? Did he summon up "this whole evil musical extravaganza," forcing Buffy and her friends to sing their private thoughts to one another? That includes gentle Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and that snarling hero-come-lately Spike (James Marsters) revealing their true feelings about Buffy.

What's not to adore about this series, with Buffy back among the living and at a life crossroads now after dying in a cliffhanger at the end of last season? It's as funny as ever, too, as in a recent episode when Buffy had a fight to the near death with a mummy's hand and was tormented by a trio of demonically challenged dorks. As a bonus, years of being a tenacious slayer have not cost Gellar her freshness.

Now comes tonight's ratings sweeps-tailored episode that features bold creative risks that are rare for prime time.

Don't expect the Sharks and the Jets. The cast does its own singing, the voices ranging from small to thin, and you might want to drive a stake through a couple of these numbers.

Yet this is great fun, the best coming when Buffy's closest friend, Willow (Alyson Hannigan), and her girlfriend, Tara (Amber Benson), sweetly serenade each other ("I'm under your spell..."). And Buffy's sister, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), has a nice little ballet with a trio of nimble demons.

Best of all, they got the mustard out!

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