Mystery Music March in April

Once More With Feeling – The Cast of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer

What was I talking about again? Oh. No list (if this is indeed a list) should be complete without a musical and why not the soundtrack to this fifty odd minute classic? To reveal some of my working I’ve wrestled with this choice for a few days as I played through the music from my favourite shows and films. The first musical I heard on vinyl was an original West End cast recording of The Sound of Music, but truth be told it’s the Disneys, The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins I really remember from childhood. The only Lloyd-Webber I get along with is Evita and the only show I’ve seen live more than once is Hair. I did like the film version of RENT but I think that had more to do with the pictures than the melodies. For ages I was as dead set on Sondheim, Into The Woods or Sunday In The Park With George. I could rationalise this further but…

I just love Once More With Feeling. Fans of musical theatre probably look down their nose at it and can see the broad shoulders of the giants it’s balancing on but the only musical I can sing along to from top to bottom and which (and I do think this is important) has an emotional content I can relate to. The problem I often have with musicals is that no matter how good the book, or how much empathy can be generated through the touching emotional break, the songs themselves are meaningless outside of their context. To my ears, songs from musicals tend to only resonate beyond their original framework if the shows they’re from lack such things as a strong plot or structure. Memories is gorgeous but CATS itself is a range of disconnected scenes which become a chore after a while no matter how passionate the performers. I know there are exceptions and there’s going to be a bag of suggestions ('Love, love changes everything...') but for the purposes of the following …

In Once More With Feeling, writer Joss Whedon somehow managed to create songs which fulfill the requirements of the plot arc within the format of the series, but also with a universal appeal. Buffy’s opening lament ‘Going Through The Motions’ is apparently about the newly resurrected slayer trying to cope, we realise in hindsight, with the fact she’s been ripped from heaven by her friends and brought back to reality and is dissatisfied with living her old life. But it also chimes with those of us who’ve been working the same routine for a long time, work, school, whatever, and find themselves on autopilot trying not admit to themselves just how bored they are. ‘Something To Sing About’ continues that theme, although boredom’s drifted into despair. ‘Standing’ in which Giles the Watcher realises that Buffy’s outgrown him, could equally be a father singing about his kidult on the cusp of independence …

But it’s not all doom and gloom. ‘Under Your Spell’ is a passionate love song, from Tara to Willow (which might also be the first time a musical has featured such a thing between lesbians) which is enhanced by Amber Benson’s fantastic vocal (which wrenched the gut out of everyone when they heard it for the first time). In general though, the other reason to appreciate Once More With Feeling is that even though most of the actors aren’t trained singers they all give it a go and in the end produce a sound as good most of us might manage. Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You is most often cited for that quality, but in many cases it was deliberate with Goldie Hawn particularly having to punch under their weight. Nicholas Brandan during 'I’ll Never Tell' is flat, but in a wonderful way, in a very real way.

Only Alyson Hannigan is let off the hook, but Joss still gives her the funniest musical related moment when she realises in the middle of ‘Walk The Through Fire’ that in the midst of the relentless poetry and counterpoint singing that her ‘line’s mostly filler….’, a look of utter disappointment on her face. These kinds of lyrics jokes run right through the episode; Whedon has fun with his concept, that the town of Sunnydale can only express their most ardent sentiments in song even if sometimes you’ve not the words. We see the magic’s effect on other towns people, infecting their daily lives -- a full song and dance number as a man realises that the stains been cleaned from his shirt (‘The got the mustard out…’) or an aria from a woman to a parking attendant (‘I’ve been having a bad, bad day, c’mon won’t you put that pad away?’).

It’s also doing everything you’d expect from a great episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. Taking an idea to extremes and exploring it from a range of angles. Whedon apparently postponed the episode after realising that a musical episode of Xena: Warrior Princess was upcoming, and not having seen that I can’t comment, but I can’t imagine it’s as funny and textured as this. There’s a the scene when Buffy’s sister Dawn finally gets her solo only to be snatched mid verse by the bad-guy of the week’s henchmen (although she’d repaid with a dance sequence). And as part of a series, a later episode ‘Selfless’ featured an extended flashback into this episode with time for another song and an explanation for how the mustard stain occurred. And ... I could go on but I just can’t imagine being able to write about any musical which is why this is the musical I’ve decided to write about. Unavoidably.

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