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A Wacky, Broadway Nightmare: Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s ‘Once More, With Feeling’ Turns 20

A Wacky, Broadway Nightmare: Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s ‘Once More, With Feeling’ Turns 20

I admit: I used to be solely an off-the-cuff Buffy the Vampire Slayer viewer. Throughout the present’s run (1997-2003), I tuned it occasionally, discovering nice enjoyment of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s splendidly empowering flip because the titular vampire hunter, however it was by no means an obsession amongst my core group of mates. I’ve, in fact, come round to the present since, and its fantastical storytelling holds a particular place in my ghoulish, chilly coronary heart. Greater than some other episode, it’s the much-lauded “As soon as Extra, with Feeling,” a musical extravaganza bursting with heart-pounding choruses and aw-shucks quirk, that I maintain most expensive. Twenty years later, it stays one of many best episodes of tv and musicals ever created.

The facility of musicals programs in my DNA. I grew up transfixed by such landmark cinematic feats as The Rocky Horror Image Present, Little Store of Horrors, and The Wizard of Oz, in addition to Broadway productions like Into the Woods and Hire. So, think about my wonderment in beholding “As soon as Extra, with Feeling” for the very first time. Image this: a wide-eyed, very inexperienced, and completely “straight” 18-year-old witnessing the sweeping, orchestra-driven opening quantity and being remodeled as one is after a baptism. “I simply wanna be alive!” Buffy bellows, as she wanders aimlessly by a fog-imbued cemetery, knocking off numerous lifeless issues. These phrases, that efficiency, Gellar’s command onscreen despatched a shiver down my backbone. I knew I used to be in for fairly a experience, however I by no means anticipated such thrilling musical compositions befitting a high-budget Broadway present.

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In the summertime of 2004, I labored as an intern for a neighborhood stage theatre firm and befriended resident Buffy stans Allison and Alan, two good mates nonetheless to this present day. I keep in mind the expertise prefer it was yesterday and the way they gushed unapologetically in regards to the present and this must-see musical bonanza. If reminiscence serves, it began when Allison, the costume store supervisor and designer, belted alongside to the soundtrack enjoying by the corporate CD boombox. I can see all of it now: Allison toiling away on a bit of cloth on the stitching machine whereas harmonizing with “I’ll By no means Inform,” her voice carrying all the best way up the stairwell to the theatre foyer. I’d by no means heard such rhapsody; clearly, I adopted the sound of her voice, quickly to find what would change into a defining second of my younger maturity. Just a few days later, Allison invited me over to her place to witness the episode for myself. It’s not hyperbolic to say that I owe her every part for altering my life.

With music and lyrics totally written/composed by present creator/director Joss Whedon, who has not too long ago been accused of on-set abuse, “As soon as Extra, with Feeling” depicts the haunting of a musical demon, who forces the townsfolk of Sunnydale to spontaneously break into track. Buffy has not too long ago been resurrected from the bowels of Hell, because of Willow (Alyson Hannigan) utilizing magic, and finds herself with the opening track “Overture / Going By the Motions” feeling listless and torpid about her life. She’s far much less impressed nowadays to save lots of the world, and even the chilly lifeless ones trailing behind have picked up on this cosmic shift. “I’ve been going by the motions, strolling by the half. Nothing appears to penetrate my coronary heart,” she laments. Two vampires and a demon admit in response, “She does fairly effectively with fiends from hell, however recently we will inform that she’s simply going by the motions, faking it one way or the other.”

The emotional set-up teased the episode’s thematic strengths, notably the dissection of melancholy and anxiousness. Solely a yr previous to watching the episode, I’d discovered myself almost as lifeless as Buffy. Her outright admission of her situation was a brave first step, later to come back full circle with the wonderful finale “One thing to Sing About.” In the summertime of 2003, I first tried to kill myself, gobbling up a bottle of Tylenol to alleviate an analogous kind of mysterious monster. Even now, I’m not even positive the place such suffocating, dreadful ideas got here from; it was as if a demon, as soon as lurking solely within the shadows, had, in its hour, lastly sprung to eat me entire. I nonetheless wrestle most days, however “As soon as Extra, with Feeling” stays an important supply of nice consolation, particularly the soundtrack. 

With Buffy’s string-bound show-stopper, Whedon additionally primed you for the kind of musical feast by which you had been about to partake. Emotional lyrics contrasted as a blanket of stars towards the darkness swirling with the orchestra, heavenly but remarkably eerie. Instantly, the characters notice that maybe random musical numbers weren’t fairly regular and collectively, they brainstorm for an answer with the primary ensemble piece, “I’ve Acquired a Concept,” laced with Anya’s (Emma Caulfield) playfully absurd rock musical eruption “Bunnies,” detailing her worry of bunnies and their “twitchy little noses,” earlier than segueing effortlessly into the saccharine, guitar-hooked “If We’re Collectively.”

“We’ve to attempt. We’ll pay the worth. It’s do or die,” the solid sings in unison, earlier than Buffy reminds everybody, “Hey, I’ve died twice.” Buffy walked by literal fireplace and lived to inform the story, her playful self-deprecation however. It was at all times her selfless nature and proclivity to sacrifice her personal life that made her an iconic hero 一 however even heroes battle internal darkness. The strain to be the hero turns into a narrative linchpin, and with nothing left to lose, she carries the cross anyway.

The stakes rise even increased when Buffy learns your entire city has been taken hostage by musical torment. Townspeople break into track about mustard stains (“The Mustard”) and getting a parking ticket (“The Parking Ticket”), humorous bite-sized items resulting in the episode’s grander and extra vital beats. Claiming to have a “volume-y textual content” about “mystical chants and boknals” again at their home, Tara (Amber Benson) and Willow, giddy and in love, rush off into the afternoon solar. As an alternative of doing something helpful, Tara launches into the tangy candy “Beneath Your Spell,” declaring how a lot Willow modified her life. Benson’s gentle vocal is pulverizing, slipping into her head voice as an angel really blessed. “Your energy shone brighter than any I do know,” she coos.

The next day, Anya and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) take pleasure in an early-morning snuggle earlier than breakfast. “Will you continue to make me waffles once we’re married?” Anya asks her groom-to-be. “I’ll solely make them for myself, however by California regulation, you’ll personal half of them,” he quips, giving her a fast peck on the nostril. Their irritation with one another bubbles proper beneath the floor, and the one method they’ll correctly talk is thru track, in fact. “I’ll By no means Inform” emerges as one of many cheekier moments with Anya and Xander lastly confessing their many pet peeves for each other. Their most hilarious alternate is beneath:

Xander: “I speak”

Anya: “He breezes”

Xander: “She doesn’t know what please is”

Anya: “His penis obtained illnesses from a chumash tribe”

Structured in a name and response format, steadily present in in style music (The Who’s “My Era” is a standard instance), Xander and Anya come to a mutual understanding. In venting their long-held grievances, together with the admission they’re really “petrified” to get married, they discover validation, and their love solely grows stronger and extra resilient. Whedon additional pulls the proverbial rug out from beneath the listener/viewer with an “Something You Can Do I Can Do Higher”-approved face-off. “Have a look at me! I’m dancin’ loopy!” barks Anya, scooting her furry slippers throughout the ground. The absurdity of the second punctuates the emotional fact rumbling beneath the floor. Ultimately, the payoff is effectively price it. “I’ve tried, however there’s these fears I can’t quell,” they sing, coming collectively. For those who weren’t charmed earlier than, you positive are actually.

Unable to seek out the solutions on her personal, Buffy confronts Spike (James Marsters), her former nemesis, who’s now in love along with her, later that night time to seek out out what he thinks in regards to the unusual occurrences. “Come to serenade me?” he asks, then provides her a swill of whiskey. “I stay immune, pleased to say,” he provides. Humorous sufficient, he pours all his frustrations over unrequited love into the roak-soaked “Relaxation in Peace,” a lot to Buffy’s seen displeasure. Mid-song, the 2 ultimately make their strategy to the cemetery throughout a funeral procession and fall down into an open grave. “I died so a few years in the past. You make me really feel prefer it isn’t so,” he begins, unraveling his tattered heartstrings. However Buffy stays unmoved, paralyzed by her personal anxiety-addled ideas to even entertain the notion of affection, a lot much less with Spike.

In the meantime, Tara suggests to Buffy’s little sister Daybreak (Michelle Trachtenberg) that Willow “has a lead on the entire musical extravaganza evil 一 this demon that may be summoned. Some Lord of the Dance,” she says. Daybreak, pondering she could also be the reason for the group’s troubles, deflects to convey up a earlier dispute between Tara and Willow. “I’m glad you guys made up,” she plasters a large smile on her face.” Tara is bowled over, “What?” “That battle you guys had about magic and stuff. It provides me stomach rumblings once you guys battle.” Suspecting Willow of erasing her reminiscence, Tara rushes off to the Magic Field, leaving Daybreak alone along with her personal impenetrable unhappiness. “Does anyone even discover? Does anyone even care?” she weeps over a somber acoustic guitar on the tender “Daybreak’s Lament,” abruptly interrupted by three of the dancing demon’s minions, appropriately dressed as Slappy the Dummy.

Daybreak’s expression of her personal melancholy right here suggests how frequent it hides in plain sight. Those that seem superb on the floor, very similar to such artists as Robin Williams, are aching and solely eager to be heard. These delicate, however apparent, clues are a part of what makes “As soon as Extra, with Feeling” such a superb episodic journey. It’s excess of combating some unknown entity, however it’s what lies beneath the conspicuous disturbances that requires equal consideration.

Captured and sure, Daybreak is then transported to The Bronze the place she launches into an interpretative dance towards the nightmarish musical interlude, “Daybreak’s Ballet,” in her try to flee. It’s all for naught, nonetheless, and she or he quickly comes face-to-face with the demon, merely referred to as Candy (Hinton Battle), making probably the most additional entrance with a tap-dance routine to “What You Really feel.” His zoot swimsuit is fashionable and completely pressed. Candy charms his method with a jazz lounge act, and also you nearly neglect he’s the villain of this saga. Virtually. “I come from the creativeness, and I’m right here strictly by your invocation,” he sings, inviting her to “dance some time” so he could make her his darling queen in Hell.

As she pleads for her life (“I’m fifteen, so, this queen factor’s unlawful,” she sings), Daybreak by accident lets it slip that her sister’s the slayer. “Discover her!” he tells his ventriloquist henchmen. “Inform her… inform her every part.” They rapidly scamper off into the night time.

Whereas working by private troubles 一 Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) realizing he should let Buffy lead in her duties to look after Daybreak (“Standing”) and Tara in her relationship with Willow (“Beneath Your Spell / Standing – Reprise”), Spike captures one of many dummies, who relays Candy’s devilish plans to the group. “Buffy’s going alone,” Giles pipes up. On this second, firmly believing Buffy possesses the ability to cease Candy, a lot to Spike’s protest, Giles forces Buffy to take cost even when she doesn’t fairly need to. “You’re actually not coming?” she asks, visibly harm. “It’s as much as you, Buffy,” he replies, quietly stern. “What do you anticipate me to do?” “Your finest.”

Nonetheless reeling from this harsh actuality, and contending with ongoing psychological well being, Buffy forges forward into the chilly, darkish night time and embraces regardless of the future is likely to be. “Stroll By the Hearth” reads as Buffy’s swan track, her last cry as she rides into battle. Her very life is on the road, and whichever method the dominos could fall, she prepares for each chance. “Why can’t I really feel? My pores and skin ought to crack and peel / I need the fireplace again,” she pleads. It’s like a swap, a psychological flip someplace down a cavernous gap in your soul. When you’ve tried suicide, and lived, there usually comes a monumental shift in perspective about life and dying 一 at the least from my vantage level, the final time I attempted to kill myself remodeled one thing inside me. You courageous ahead, even should you actually don’t need to.

“Now, by the smoke she calls to me, to make my method throughout the flame,” she sings, the music slowly constructing and burning brighter. “To save lots of the day or possibly soften away. I suppose it’s all the identical.” With these strains, specifically, Buffy takes possession over her psychological state and faces her predicament with objective, even when she stays resigned to her lot.

Spike rapidly joins in, toiling over his personal plight, “The torch I bear is scorching me, and Buffy’s laughing I’ve little doubt. I hope she fries. I’m free if that bitch dies! I higher assist her out.”

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Starting as her opus, “Stroll By the Hearth” is just not solely a sterling solo showcase however the episode’s finest ensemble piece, as Giles, Anya, Tara, Willow, and Xander unite on the refrain and later have their very own one-off interjections. “So one after the other, they flip from me. I suppose my mates can’t face the chilly. However why I froze, not one amongst them is aware of and by no means could be advised,” Buffy sighs. 

Many people with psychological well being points steadily discover themselves remoted from the world, feeling as if these they love have deserted them; maybe, it’s the very fact of the matter, or it’s utterly self-constructed delusions. In “As soon as Extra, with Feeling,” it’s fairly literal, and the characters quickly notice the error of their methods, as mirrored with the layering of vocal elements within the final third of the track. Buffy’s strains start bleeding into Tara’s and so forth. One after the other, vocal strains tumble like a home of playing cards, in nearly a Stephen Sondheim complexity.

The group efficiency may very well be a finale in and of itself, however it’s nothing in comparison with “One thing to Suppose About.” A Buffy solo provoked in her confrontation with Candy, to whom she provides to modify locations with Daybreak, it embodies Buffy’s emotions about life and dying. “The place’s there’s life, there’s hope. On a regular basis’s a present. Needs can come true,” she gathers up a renewed will to dwell. “Whistle when you work. So arduous all day to be like different ladies, to slot in on this glittering world.”

Amidst her efficiency, Giles realizes she “wants backup,” with first Tara and Anya enjoying supportive dancer roles. Musically, “One thing to Suppose About” jarringly flips between introspective ballad and funky shake-down. Moments later, the manufacturing all crumbles away, leaving solely a piano and Buffy’s admission that she was by no means in hell to start with. “There was no ache, no worry, little doubt ‘until they pulled me out… of heaven,” she sings over a chilling minor chord. Buffy had escaped her personal private hell, raging like chained demons inside her cranium, and located true bliss within the afterlife. Gellar’s efficiency haunts me as she glides into the previous couple of strains: “In order that’s my chorus / I dwell in Hell ‘trigger I’ve been expelled from Heaven,” she sings, reducing deep into the core of what it feels prefer to need to die. You imagine you’re nugatory, and a poisonous cycle of pondering turns into your personal self-imposed Hell. 

This fact hits Willow like a ton of bricks as a lot it does the viewer, however what’s completed is completed. Consequently, Buffy is distributed right into a dancing whirlwind till she actually smokes 一 and solely Spike can cease her, grabbing her shoulders. “Life’s not a track. Life isn’t bliss. Life is simply this: it’s dwelling,” he sings, begging her “to go on dwelling, so one among us resides.” It’s Spike’s outstretched hand that saves her. It’s not endeavor one more life and dying campaign. It’s not being left deserted, scrambling to uncover internal power. It’s compassion from one other human being. It’s a help system. It’s the figuring out that should you’re OK, you’ll have another person to catch you in your darkest moments.

Now, that’s one thing price singing about.

Tying up unfastened ends, Daybreak subsequently claims (as soon as once more) that she by no means summoned a demon. “It was within the store,” Giles muses. “Then, one among us most likely…” He trails off for a second, and Xander slowly raises his hand behind him. “I didn’t know what was going to occur!” he whines. “I simply thought there have been going to be dances and songs.” He then provides to be Candy’s Queen. “It’s tempting,” the dancing demon considers. “I’ll assume we’ll waive the clause simply this as soon as.”

Naturally, Candy takes the stage one final time with “What You Really feel – reprise.” “All these secrets and techniques you’ve been concealing. Say you’re pleased now, as soon as extra with feeling,” he croons with an intoxicating smokiness. His phrases dangle thick within the air, underscoring the entire arc of the episode: as soon as ridden with anxiousness and melancholy, and feeling alone in her battles, Buffy involves better appreciation for all times and people she loves. The somber “The place Do We Go from Right here?” and “Coda” flip the gaze upon the viewer and depart them to confront their very own position in all this. “The place can we go from right here?” the ensemble ponders, the music crescendoing with dramatic aptitude.

Twenty years on, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “As soon as Extra, with Feeling” manages to be a campy good time, a masterfully produced musical, and a provocative dialog piece about psychological well being. Since my very first viewing, I’ve listened to the soundtrack scores of instances and beneath very completely different situations, from the bathe to the morning jog, and like all nice musicals, the songs greater than maintain their very own. Regardless of Joss Whedon’s on-set habits, which is completely unacceptable and downright loathsome, he was nothing in need of a genius when he set about writing and creating one of many best musicals ever made. So far as I’m involved, “As soon as Extra with Feeling” is a prime tier musical and proper up there with the likes of Little Store of Horrors.

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