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CD review/Buffy the Vampire Slayer/'Once More With Feeling' by Amy Reichardt of Colorado Daily

Bored now? Why not take a stroll down the fantasy/sci-fi television soundtrack aisle of your local record store for a bite of musical tastiness. If you need more direction, keep a lookout for vampires, zombies or a coven of devoted "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" viewers trolling the store for the soundtrack of the show's musical episode "Once More with Feeling."

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a seven-year television veteran currently running on UPN. The show follows the adventures of the "chosen one" (Buffy) who saves the world - a lot - from evildoers such as demon snakes, crazy (but well-dressed) gods, and of course, vampires. While many have never tuned into the show because of its irreverent title, the true fans are out there and have been waiting since the musical's original television airing last spring to obtain a recording of the soundtrack so they could re-live the joy and sorrow of the episode. For "Buffy" virgins, the musical provides an introductory primer to the emotional high points of last season and will prepare them for this year's (probably final) season.

During "Once More With Feeling" the television characters, who usually speak instead of sing, became operatic when a musically inclined demon casts a spell over their town. While at first a rock 'n' roll fantasy, the situation becomes dire when Buffy and friends begin singing about their hidden emotions and feelings, as characters in musicals tend to do. While in your standard musicals like "Oklahoma" and "Music Man" these types of ballads are happy revelations, in Buffy's world most emotions are better left unexpressed. Concerns about marriage, failing relationships and the existentialist quandary over the meaning of life all become tunage under the guidance of Joss Whedon, the show's creator and the writer/lyricist for the musical.

On a strictly sonic level, having an opportunity to listen to the musical on CD is such an improvement over what television speakers tin out. Fans should consider a purchase for that reason alone. Analogy-wise, it's like the difference between trying to slay a vampire with a pencil to using an actual wooden stake (While both do the job, there is a certain satisfaction in being able to use the appropriate tool). However, the soundtrack quality is clearer, sharper and is mixed in a way that brings the singing voices into the forefront - which oddly wasn't a priority when the show aired. The television show's audio mix gets a triple "M" - muffled, muted and mmm-not good. The soundtrack is a definite acoustic advance.

The CD soundtrack is music only - no dialogue from the television show was added. In some cases this is a plus. Conversations took place over songs, which caused viewers to miss some of the verses. For example, on the soundtrack, we can now learn the fascinating fact that Marti Noxon, the co-executive producer of "Buffy" and member of the chorus, isn't wearing any underwear. A point she sings in an effort to persuade a traffic cop to stop writing her a parking ticket.

Nevertheless, some dialogue exposition would have been meaningful. During the airing of the show, Buffy's song, "Something to Sing About" expresses her anguish about her removal from heaven and ends with her sister's spoken reminder that, "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it." Soundtrack listeners segue right into the next song. That spoken line marks one of the turning points in the show and the rest of the season. It is missed on the soundtrack. The listener is left to rely on her inner "Buffy" voice to chime in with the line when playing the song.

One of the endearing qualities of the musical is that the actors chose to sing their parts - instead of having professional singers dubbed in. Sarah Michelle Gellar (who plays Buffy) was a bit apprehensive about singing, but didn't want to hand off the emotional turning points of her character to another to convey. The other actors seem to have followed her example. The outcome is heartfelt singing that's a little thin in some spots. The standouts are Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and Tara (Amber Benson) who are used in a duet "Under Your Spell/Standing" excellently. The actors who play Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), apparently couldn't carry much of a tune and were relegated to a few lines or less throughout the entire musical. Xander, (Nicholas Brendon) who didn't come across well on television, actually does sound better on the soundtrack. Maybe it's because his frightening dance moves were really the reason he looked like he was in over his head. The only real disappointment was the villain, Hinton Battle - a Broadway regular - who was never really given an opportunity to let loose. He clearly has a rich, technically excellent voice, but it is used in a restrained way - in quiet songs. He's the friggin' villain -he should get a chance to scream/shout/growl or do something a little less ... croony.

The real selling point, making this a must have for those completely enmeshed in the "Buffyverse," are the final cuts. True fans have probably already downloaded the musical's songs or have a copy of the musical on videotape, so the last five "suites" of music are especially bite-worthy. Three are from other classic "Buffy" episodes - "Hush," "Restless" and "The Gift." (For those of you who've seen "The Gift's" end, be prepared to weep a little weep as you listen). The show's main title by Nerf Herder is also included. The real star, however, is the "demo" for the musical. It's a family affair with Joss Whedon and his wife running through one of the musical's songs in their home's foyer. It's Joss's world, musical and voice - a true "Buffy" fan trifecta!

As musicals go, the "Buffy" musical is pretty good. It was created by professional artists - they just weren't, for the most part, professional singers. If you stood it up next to, say the Broadway recording of "Annie," I think that darlin' little redhead would come in first. But in the end, we all know Buffy could kick Annie's butt. Considering the "Buffy" musical was one in a series of weekly television episodes, that it carried the season's plot lines forward, plus it was fun to listen to, the musical itself is stupendous.

And for a series that already has a cult following, the musical has immediately become an uber-classic. For serious Buffyphiles who haven't already purchased the soundtrack, they should (it's not clear that they haven't - the sound track was the second best musical seller on the day it was released). For "Buffy" dabblers, jump in - you'll only have to sing along with characters from one of the best series on television today. And did you really want to listen to "Annie"?

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