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Once More, With Feeling by Sarah Kuhn of SciFiIgn

Of course, I kind of have to love this one. It captures the heart of all those classic movie musicals I'm the biggest sucker for, while freely acknowledging the inevitable cheese that comes with and lacing the whole thing with snarky, Jossian wit. As we begin things, the Scoobs find themselves breaking into random bits of song for no apparent reason. Sometimes there are even fireworks, sparkly things and a chorus of dancing demons in the background. The culprit is a snazzy-suited demon named Sweet who believes he was summoned by Dawn -- unfortunately, all the singing and whatnot forces everyone to reveal their innermost feelings, and damn, that's never a good thing with a group so angsty as this.

Tara finds out that Willow bewitched her. Giles reveals his desire to depart. Xander and Anya fret about their impending nuptials. And of course, Buffy finally musically bitch-slaps her friends for yanking her out of heaven and back to the hell that is Sunnydale.

The cast members all give it a go with the singing, and naturally, some are stronger than others. Luckily, Joss, who wrote the music and lyrics (is there anything he can't do? Is he also an Olympic-caliber diver? Yeesh), manages to tailor things to everyone's respective talents, and using everyone's real voices adds a charming, homegrown touch of realism -- there's no West Side Story-style voice dubbing to be had. Stand-outs are, of course, Anthony Stewart Head, making fine use of his Rocky Horror chops, James Marsters, employing that aspiring rock god thing, and Amber Benson, who sings like an angel on her Disney-esque (well, minus the delightfully naughty parts) love ballad, "Under Your Spell."

The entire cast, however, does a wonderful job of working with Joss to capture the intangible, winsome charms that go along with musicals, that "get up and sing" notion that makes you giggle right along with the characters as they fall in a heap of goofy laughter, post-song.

The Anya/Xander number is a perfect example of this, a shiny, Busby Berkeley-esque nod to jaunty songs that reveal darker emotions. It's sweet, it's catchy, and Anya's wearing that delicious red outfit. The characters' feelings are well-captured, but the whole affair remains bouncy as can be because they're carrying a tune. Love that Xander chimes in with "This is my verse, hello!" These two are obviously having a blast with their number, and it rubs off on the audience.

I also love the way that Joss plays with musical conventions, making it seem as if all the residents of Sunnydale are caught in their own personal show-stopper -- people dance in the street, and one man(played by The Fury!) jubilantly belts, "They got the mustard ouuuuuuuuuuut!" in reference to his formerly soiled dry cleaning. And of course, gotta love Marti Noxon as the tuneful gal who gets a ticket -- that Marti can sing, eh?

All this, and I haven't even mentioned the villains and little Dawnie yet. Sweet, as played by Hinton Battle, is a wonderfully slinky demon, all shiny and sleek what with his suit-changing abilities and supple singing voice. The scene wherein he and his scary, puppet minions dance about with Dawn is like some sort of twisted, jazzy Nutcracker, a really nicely-choreographed piece of work.

In fact, one of the musical's great strengths may be that the numbers are fairly varied, but each adheres to a different sort of convention. Giles, of course, gets the power ballad. Spike gets the piss-off rocker. Anya gets a riot grrrl number on bunnies (who knew Emma Caulfield could rock out like that? If she ever need another job, maybe Sleater-Kinney needs a new singer?).

As for the dramatic turns housed within the music, well...we're going to be seeing plenty of heat from 'em for some time to come, and the way they're presented works very well. Giles' tough love approach to parenting Buffy cuts to the bone. Willow's shocked face at Buffy's revelation shows us that she hasn't given in completely to darkness. And the rally-the-troops save by the Scoobs is appropriately rousing.

The only thing that's notably missing is a song from poor Willow, who seems to be focal this season, but mostly just burbles, "I think this line's mostly filler." (Hee!) Understandable, since Alyson Hannigan's vocal abilities seem somewhat limited, but such a thing is conspicuous in its absence.

What else can I say? I'm a cheeseball. I'm gonna sing along when I watch this one again.

And as for that sloppy kiss at the end, well...every musical needs a good kiss.

Sarah Kuhn insists that you all go out and see Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Now!

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