CD review/Buffy the Vampire Slayer/'Once More With Feeling'
Amy Reichardt of Colorado
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
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 Amazon.com
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"?