The Slayer sings and creator Joss Whedon flirts with tunesmithing
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Credit: Sarah Michelle Geller Photographed by Seth Joel

A funny thing happened on the way to this week’s episode of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Although TV’s cult hit has always been a genre-busting anomaly — combining elements of horror, gothic romance, soap opera, satire, and slapstick — you could be fairly certain the characters wouldn’t break into song.

But now Buffy’s going Broadway, and it’s all Stephen Sondheim’s doing, really. The legendary lyricist-composer (”West Side Story,” ”A Little Night Music”) is a god to ”Buffy” creator Joss Whedon. ”I know the words to every one of his songs,” admits the self-described musical geek. ”Well, except ‘Passion,’ which I’ve excised from my brain. It was just wrong.”

Whedon has been dreaming of staging an all-singing, all-dancing ”Buffy” since the show’s 1997 pilot. ”Every season I would ask, Are we going to do the musical episode?” says Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy’s Watcher, Giles), who displayed tasty vocal chops in a 2000 sequence. ”Joss would say he wasn’t ready. It had to be organic.” Whedon’s hesitation was twofold: He wanted the episode to be ”a normal hour of ‘Buffy”’ that forwarded existing plot points, not an out-of-sequence stand-alone. Plus, he needed to find the time to write the words and music himself — a virtually impossible task until this season, when he handed off day-to-day show-running to exec producer Marti Noxon.

As it was, the musical homage (airing Nov. 6) took a grueling six months to make: three months banging out the score on a piano Whedon learned to play just a few years ago (despite possessing only a tenuous grip on music composition, he had no collaborators) and three months of voice and dance lessons for the actors, not to mention all the lip-synching, choreographing, shooting, and editing. ”It was a nightmare,” says an exhausted Whedon. ”The happiest nightmare I ever had.”

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