Also known as the episode, "Once More, With Feeling", Buffy: The Musical was a special musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It first aired on November 6th, 2001. The plot featured a demon that could make people sing their deepest feelings and dance like angels. The show actually ran ten minutes longer than the alloted time; as a result, some music will be cut from the episode when it is rereleased for syndication. It featured the following numbers:

Going Through the Motions
I've Got a Theory
The Mustard
Under Your Spell
I'll Never Tell
The Parking Ticket
Rest in Peace
What You Feel
Under Your Spell/Standing (Reprise)
Walk Through the Fire
Something To Sing About
What You Feel (Reprise)
Where Do We Go From Here?

All titles were written by Joss Whedon himself, who had no previous experience writing music. The titles were performed by the cast members Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg, James Marsters and Amber Benson.

Some interesting notes: The charismatic demon Sweet was played by three-time Tony winner Hinton Battle. Marti Noxon, who is now executive producer of the series with Whedon, played the lady who tried to sing her way out of a parking ticket. "The Mustard" was belted out by David Fury.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episode Guide

Season 6, Episode 7

Once More, With Feeling

Original Airdate: November 6, 2001

Written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Songs and music written by Joss Whedon.

Shot and broadcast in letterbox with a 1:85 to 1 aspect ratio.

Every time Joss directs, the quality of this show leaps up above not just the other episodes, but almost everything else on television. (Certainly everything on the WB or UPN.) He had been promising a musical episode for years, and I don't think any of the fans expected it to be as artistically successful as this. I mean, sure, I'm a fan and I'm biased, but come on. These tunes are catchy as hell, and coming from a man who only started playing the piano three years ago, I think this is a stunning compositional achievement.

Allegedly, Joss held off on doing the musical for so long because he wanted it to be organic--the lyrical content of the songs grows out of issues the characters were preoccupied with in the previous episode. The songs are not simple expressions of emotions while the rest of the fictitious universe is held on pause; they actually move the plot along. Additionally, this might be the first postmodern musical, since the fact that the characters are aware that they are singing affects events differently than the same thoughts communicated through dialogue would.

The high concept gimmick for this episode is somewhat the reverse of that for Hush. A demon appears in Sunnydale and casts a spell forcing everyone to burst into song at random-- "They gooooooot the MUSTAAAAARD OUUUUUUUUT!!!" The unique way that this creates dramatic conflict is that the characters are forced to sing out their true feelings, whether or not this is a good idea. The best example is the way Spike's face falls when he realizes he's about to tell the woman he loves to piss off, against his will.

Disclaimer: I know very little about specific Broadway musicals (as I tend to loathe them), so any individual references (parody, homage, or otherwise) flew right over my head. Feel free to /msg me with allusions you spotted, or node your own list.

From the beginning:

The opening credits montage is replaced with a much shorter shot (even so, this ep ran 67 minutes with ads) of the moon in the night sky, over which the cast's faces are superimposed. Their names are splashed across the screen in a bright red typeface that went out of style in 1954. Underneath plays a gentle orchestral version of the punk theme song by Nerf Herder.

As Buffy awakes and the Summers household goes about their morning duties, we're treated to an overture that introduces the themes of Something to Sing About and Under Your Spell, which continues playing as we cut to the gang in the Magic Box and then Buffy patrolling. It then segues into Going Through the Motions as Buffy slays a couple vamps and one ram dude.

The next morning, at the Magic Box, the gang discovers they (and the whole town) have all been singing. They begin to discuss what could be causing the problem. Cue I've Got a Theory. Willow and Tara make up some nonsense about having a book at home that might contain answers, and they sneak off to get all googly moogly with each other. They stroll together in a beautiful park and boys check out Tara's body. She and Will begin to discuss how much they love each other, which causes Under Your Spell. Back at the Box, the rest of the gang is not fooled. Not even Dawn, who is happy about the musicality. Cut to a dark alley where an innocent bystander tap dances himself into spontaneous combustion. Sweet, the demon clearly responsible, steps out of the shadows and says, "That's entertainment!" So the songs are not benign.

Xander and Anya awake in bed and begin to discuss what breakfast will be like when they're married. Cue I'll Never Tell. Afterward, the two of them tell Giles he MUST find a way to stop the singing - the implication being that honesty is potentially damaging to their long-term relationship. This scene is all one long dolly shot which features dancing janitors and Marti Noxon as a woman who gets a very dramatic parking ticket. (David Fury played the triumphant dry cleaning client earlier.)

Buffy pays a visit to Spike's crypt to see if he knows from whence the tunes come. Irritated that she's all business, he busts out with Rest in Peace. During that, he dances on a coffin borne by pallbearers, which I think we can assume is that of the immolation victim. Buffy does in fact leave him (ironically, he makes her wait until he finishes the whole song), quite angry herself.

Dawn tells Tara that she's glad Tara and Willow made up. Tara, who doesn't remember the fight, heads off to the Box to find out what that mysterious sprig on her pillow was. Dawn puts on the pendant she stole earlier, sings two lines of a song, and is abducted by freaky wooden men. She wakes up on a pool table in the Bronze, and does an elaborate dance number (not quite ballet, but heavily inspired by it) against the menacing marionettes. This music becomes What You Feel, as the stylish demon (played terrifically by Hinton Battle) reveals himself and his plans to make Dawn, who he believes summoned him, his bride in the underworld.

Buffy and Giles train in the gym in back of the Box. Buffy, without realizing it, expresses her reluctance to take responsibility for Dawn, which prompts Standing. Meanwhile, Tara has arrived and found that the sprig is Lethe's Bramble: "Used for augmenting spells of forgetting and mind control". She and Giles simultaneously sing Under Your Spell / Standing - reprise to Willow and Buffy, respectively. Spike runs in with a wooden boy, who tells them that Dawn is in peril and that Sweet wants Buffy to come to her. (All demons want the slayer.) Buffy: "Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday." (In America, the show airs on Tuesday.)

Giles insists that no one help Buffy. She's hurt and offended, and walks off alone, but as everyone sings Walk Through the Fire, they all decide to help her anyway. Buffy arrives at the Bronze and begins Something to Sing About, eventually revealing to the gang where she was when she was dead. She nearly dances herself to death, but Spike stops that. The truth comes out, which is that Xander (not Dawn) used the pendant to summon Sweet, so Sweet decides to leave them in (physical) peace after singing What You Feel - Reprise

Traumatized by all the secrets they didn't want to know, the group sings Where Do We Go From Here?. During the dance, Spike backs into a beam and decides this number isn't for him. He leaves and Buffy follows. They both understand what will happen. They kiss. These words appear:


And curtains literally drop across the frame.

Obviously, most of the content in this episode is in the songs, and important details concerning character arcs are covered in the node for each individual song, by the lyrics.

On September 24, 2002, almost a year after the program first aired, a soundtrack album was released by Rounder Records. Some of us may have already owned a bastardized mp3 version of this CD, because we NEEDED it, dammit, but the official one is well worth the purchase. It's nice to hear the songs with the sound effects from the scenes removed, or more simply, before the effects were added.

The CD contains a 30-page booklet with lots of photos, extensive liner notes by Joss, and every lyric. The album cover, in a welcome departure from the murky goth graphic design of the DVD box sets, emulates a 50's-era movie poster, with painterly illustrations of the actors' faces against a swimming blue sky, and a gold star proudly proclaiming "ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM!" as though the show has been on Broadway for years.

Track list:
  1. Overture / Going Through the Motions
  2. I've Got a Theory / Bunnies / If We're Together
  3. The Mustard
  4. Under Your Spell
  5. I'll Never Tell
  6. The Parking Ticket
  7. Rest in Peace
  8. Dawn's Lament
  9. Dawn's Ballet
  10. What You Feel
  11. Standing
  12. Under Your Spell / Standing - reprise
  13. Walk Through The Fire
  14. Something to Sing About
  15. What You Feel - Reprise
  16. Where Do We Go From Here?
  17. Coda
  18. End Credits (Broom Dance / Grr Arrgh)
  19. Main Title
  20. Suite from Restless
    Willow's Nightmare / First Rage / Chain of Ancients
  21. Suite from Hush
    Silent Night / First Kiss / Enter the Gentlemen / Schism
  22. Sacrifice (from The Gift)
  23. Something to Sing About (demo, sung by Joss Whedon and Kai Cole, his wife)

Gimmick shows and movies have been fairly popular recently. Many of them are great concepts but lack the content to really work. This one doesn't.

I'll try not to go into great detail on the plot except in how it works into the overall plot of the show, since Walter has already outlined it for us. And as he said, this episode is not an aside from the plot of the show as a whole; rather, it is part of it, and in fact a very important part.

Through music, this episode deals with issues that would have been very awkward for the characters and possibly tedious for the audience if addressed in plain dialogue. The first singing comes from Buffy, and it is about how she just hasn't felt a part of the world since Willow brought her back from the dead. Of course the audience knew that already, but to hear her admitting it (with several vamps and demons as backup) is a new thing.

While Tara's solo is really just a love song, however moving, it does not bring up any difficult issues. Xander and Anya, however, are forced to confess through song the worries they've been having over their future, which they were afraid to say before for fear of scaring the other away. After the song, they run to Giles with renewed concern for whether all this singing is truly safe. (Anya seems just as upset about the fact that their song was old-fashioned as she is about its lyrics.) Giles tells them about the man who tap-danced himself into spontaneous human combustion, confirming the danger, as three sweepers dance behind them.

When Buffy goes to Spike to see if he has any idea what's happening, he bursts into a rock song (which a friend of mine says made her totally want to "jump on him") telling her to leave him alone if she can't love him back, but when she leaves at the end, he is disappointed. Then, during her training session, Giles begins to sing about why he has to leave town again. The audience knew he would, because the actor couldn't be in Los Angeles all the time for filming, but there had been no suggestion thus far as to why. He sings that he wishes he could be a father to Buffy, but she needs to be independant and he is only getting in the way of that. Then he joins Tara, who has discovered that Willow cast a spell to make her forget a fight they had, for a duet.

Meanwhile, Dawn has been captured by the demon responsible for the singing because she is wearing his amulet (which she stole from the magic shop), so he thinks she is the one who summoned him. When he finds out she is the slayer's sister, he sends a minion to fetch Buffy. Spike leaves her in anger, and Giles, trying to foster that independence, tells everyone else to let her handle it alone. But before long they all go to help after all. Buffy offers herself in Dawn's place if she can't defeat the demon, then begins to sing. Giles ends Tara and Anya as backup.

Within the song, Buffy tells everyone that, while she was dead, she was not in some terrible Hell dimension as they thought, but in Heaven. She had told Spike before and hoped never to tell the others because she knew they meant well in bringing her back. This part alone would have been the most difficult thing to do in a straight dialogue episode, but in the musical, all we need is to see the look of horror on Willow's face to understand.

After this revelation, Buffy begins to dance, frantically, and she is just beginning to smoke when Spike grabs her and sings that the best thing she can do is go on living. The demon accepts his defeat and leaves, and both Spike and Buffy slip out during the group's final number. And as that number says, "the curtain falls on a kiss."

Of course not everything is resolved, because this is only one episode, and in fact there are new issues and questions to deal with. Giles still has to tell Buffy he is leaving. Will Spike and Buffy get involved? And will Willow curtail her excessive and often irresponsible use of magic?

I'd also like to say a little about the actors and their performance in this new format.

Anthony Stewart Head: Great singer. This was revealed on the show in an earlier episode, when he sang The Who at a coffeehouse. I'd also seen him on VH1's Rocky Horror Picture Show karaoke special. He got up in spike heeled boots and embroidered hose and sang the worst song in the entire movie (Planet Schmanet Janet) but still managed to impress me.

Sarah Michelle Gellar: I get the impression she doesn't sing much, certainly not professionally, but she can carry a tune and was able to learn. It's like when Cindy Crawford had to learn to sing for a cologne commercial: a new experience but not entirely bad.

Alyson Hannigan: Can't sing, and she was given very few lines by herself (one of which was "I think this line is mainly filler").

Nicholas Brendon: Can't sing either, but he was willing to try, and he made it through his duet without any disasters. Decent dancer too.

Emma Caulfield: When either this show stops running or she is no longer on it, I'll be looking for her on Broadway. Her solo about bunnies during "I've Got a Theory" was especially impressive.

Amber Benson: She was also on the RHPS karaoke special. I'm glad she got to do a duet with Giles. She is a light but strong soprano, probably not very heavily trained but with natural talent.

Michelle Trachtenberg: She would be able to sing if she would open her throat more. Great dancer; clearly has some ballet experience.

James Marsters: He's in a rock band. Need I say more?

This is a song-by-song review of the Once More With Feeling soundtrack, released by Rounder Records in September 2002. I have omitted the last four tracks from my review, so I am reviewing the pieces that were presented in the aired TV show - but as they were presented on the soundtrack. I've skipped the three scored pieces that are at the end because I don't feel qualified to review them as I don't have a background in classical music or in film scores. My only qualifications to review the rest of the soundtrack are that I'm an avid fan of musicals.

  1. Overture - As with most overtures, it draws from songs throughout the musical, but blends them together. There's nothing too special here, it just sounds like a typical overture. Going Through the Motions - Musically, this is strong opening to the show, and Sarah Michelle Gellar's voice comes through clearly - albeit without the rich layers typically heard from recording artists. The interplay with the demons is clever, although the beat between She ain't got that swing and Thanks for noticing is awkward (fortunately it's not repeated in How can I repay / Whatever). The line She's not even half the girl she - ow! seems like classic Whedon humor. Although the song's final line is the most dramatic, Gellar's voice doesn't get any more intense.
  2. I've Got a Theory - This opening to the medley is good, except for Nicholas Brendon's hurried spoken lines, which feel like the device they are. Bunnies - Emma Caulfield's punk rock bit isn't as strong without the visual. Having seen the show and knowing what she's doing makes it a great interlude, but without that it's incomprehensible chatter. If We're Together - The segue from "I've Got a Theory" is awkward, but the song itself is fine. Buffy's joke of hey, I've died twice is a nice reward for fans of the show who are familiar with her history. The medley ends weakly, though, partly because Anya's the only one who's afraid of bunnies.
  3. The Mustard - What's a musical without one song featuring pounding tympanis?
  4. Under Your Spell - This song tells an excellent story, and it's also one of the ones I feel I'm pretty good at singing along to. One line, the moon to the tide / I can feel you inside seems awkward and added only to make a rhyme. The ending is actually rather naughty, and is explicit in the show itself - Tara's singing Lost in ecstasy / spread beneath my willow tree while she's lying back on the bed and Willow appears to be going down on her during the final lines of You make me complete (which sounds kind of like "you make me have an orgasm-plete, but maybe that's my dirty mind).
  5. I'll Never Tell - This song really showcases Sweet's modus operandi, which is to have people share their innermost thoughts with each other. It's an excellent joke song, and a fine duet. Some of the lines are obscure - before I read the lyrics I never would have known there's a line His penis got diseases from a Chumash tribe! There's also an unclear line from Xander; the lyrics print it as She doesn't know what "please" is but it comes out sounding like She doesn't know what pleases...which is perfectly valid, I guess. Nicholas Brendon and Emma Caulfield harmonize beautifully in the lines I lied, I said it's easy / I've tried, but there's these fears I can't quell.
  6. The Parking Ticket - This is a lovely little song, mostly a capella, with some soft strings for backup. The ending is fantastic and not meant to be heard in the show; I'm pretty sure the camera has focused elsewhere by the time the young woman sings Hey, I'm not wearing underwear.
  7. Rest In Peace - A great rocker sung by James Marsters, this song features lots of poetic and obscure language, it would be among the most difficult to interpret into another language. One line doesn't work without the visual: That's great, but I don't wanna play. The "rest in peace" concept is clever in itself - a play between sleeping/relief, and the fact that Spike actually is dead. One line I haven't figured out is You just love to play the thought that you might misbehave. The quiet bridge with rhymes for essed is pretty, and then the song goes back to rock before finishing.
  8. Dawn's Lament - This opens with strains from Under Your Spell, which seems to be a major musical theme as it's also in the Overture and elsewhere. The song is instrumental until about one minute in, when Michelle Trachtenberg's rather weak voice comes in for two lines. It's obvious why they didn't have her sing much in the show...her voice just too immature, although she's a good dancer. The glass-breaking crescendo is just awesome.
  9. Dawn's Ballet - This is inscrutable without the visuals. I have no idea where this comes from in the show, except that it must involve Dawn's journey to the demon (kidnapping, probably) because that's the next song.
  10. What You Feel - This is another one that I can actually sing along to pretty well. Michelle Trachtenberg's lines are superfluous and distract from an awesome performance by Hinton Battle (a three-time Tony award winner). One line - all those hearts lay open - that must sting is hurried to make it rhyme with plus some customers just start combusting, but that's the only bad part of the song. The ending is weak without the visual of the demon's reaction to Dawn's mentioning the Slayer.
  11. Standing - Tony Head's singing is fantastic, he's got a great range and such rich tones in his voice. The line Your path's unbeaten, and it's all uphill, and you can meet it but you never will doesn't make a whole lot of sense when broken down, but the visuals accompanying this song are great.
  12. Under Your Spell/Standing - Reprise - It seems unusual for a reprise to come directly after a song, but it does open with the other portion of the reprise. Amber Benson manages to convey emotion in her clear-as-a-bell voice, and the interplay between her lyrics and Tony Head's lines is a classic musical duet with two people singing unrelated stories, playing off each other.
  13. Walk Through the Fire - Sarah Michelle Gellar's voice starts out weakly here; i'm not sure if this is a reflection of her voice alone, or deliberately expressing what Buffy's feeling. The line I want the fire back is beautifully delivered when watching the show, but carries less weight without the visuals. The song itself is a great composition, with the electric guitars. Spike and the demon play off each other in classic musical style with (some people/she) will never learn. Tony Head's brief solo is rich, but Nicholas Brendan and Emma Caulfield are weak following it up. The visuals in this are excellent: the group walking together, Spike walking alone, Buffy walking alone. The demon's lines are not clear while the others take turns, but they are: So one by one they come to me / The distant redness as their guide / But what they'll find / Ain't what they have in mind / It's what they have inside - which doesn't make much sense! The lines of the others are what's intended to be heard, though, and they're much better - particularly Willow's fantastic I think this line's mostly filler. The final chorus with evokes the great visual of everyone coming together at the demon's lair.
  14. Something to Sing About - The lesson in this song is a snooze. The dance bridges in Buffy's long verses are awkward, particularly when the lines trip over each other. If you know that Buffy's fighting the urge to dance, the purpose of the rock lines between her verses are clear, but otherwise they seem out of place. Sarah Michelle Gellar's apparently untrained voice manages to come through as emotive in the verse when she mentions heaven - each time I hear it, the visuals of her friends' shocked faces come to mind. Her last lines, though, end abruptly: I want to hear another sing about. The rock music picking up tempo emphasizes what's going on if you've seen the episode, but you have to remind yourself that Spike has stepped in to save her life or his solo seems jarring. His line so one of us is living is almost swallowed up, which is odd because it seems both important and deliberately private.
  15. What You Feel - Reprise - This song is kind of enigmatic. It's not clear where sentences end or begin, making the language hard to grasp. Hinton Battle's final notes - in hell - are wonderfully delivered and backed up by a jazzy horn beat.
  16. Where Do We Go From Here? - The visual accompanying Understand we'll go hand in hand, but we'll walk alone in fear is the best part of this song. The harmonizing by Nicholas Brendan and Emma Caulfield is pretty, and Tony Head's chiming in with Tell me is perfect, but the final group verse is strange if you don't know what's coming. The voices seem to rotate throughout the song - you can hear Amber Benson, then Emma Caulfield, and so on.
  17. Coda - The music seems perfunctory, the point is really the visual.
  18. Credits (Broom Dance - Grr Arrgh) - I'm not sure exactly what a broom dance is, but this is a classic finale to a vaudeville musical. The operatic "Grr Arrgh" is hilarious.
  19. Main Title - This isn't the usual main title that goes with Buffy, although it was also composed by Nerf Herder.

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