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For 'Buffy,' it's Fandom of the Opera

Television's cult teen heroine continues to vamp on the big-screen in a karaoke singalong that's touring the US.

By Irene SveteCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 6, 2007



Seattle

In the world of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," death is rarely permanent.

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The critically acclaimed cult television show about Buffy Summers – the one girl in all of the world mystically chosen to save us from demons, vampires, and other forces of darkness – aired its last new episode in 2003. But the twice-resurrected heroine continues to entertain.

Last weekend, several hundred fans crowded into Seattle's Egyptian Theater for a chance to sing, dance, and shout down Buffy's blabbermouth little sister, Dawn, while the show's Emmy-nominated musical episode, "Once More With Feeling," unfolded on the big screen.

Clinton McClung, the organizer and host of the Buffy Musical Big Screen Extravaganza, now touring nationally, calls the interactive midnight lovefest "Buffy-oke."

"You can't have an experience like this in front of your DVD player at home," says Mr. McClung. "I'm totally pumped after each show."

Buffy fans seem to agree.

Seattleite Mickey Sacks and her friends arrived 90 minutes early to snag spots at the front of a line that eventually snaked halfway around the block. Enthusiasts since shortly after the series launched in 1997, they say singing along at home and on road trips is great, but it isn't as much fun as being part of a full-on production.

"Plus I'm also theater geek," says Ms. Sacks, who sported a pair of pink rabbit ears ("the easiest costume in the closet").

Streaming into the theater, participants receive goodie bags of finger puppets, confetti poppers, kazoos, and plastic vampire teeth. The audience is the show, McClung says. The preshow warm-up includes fan-made videos, Buffy trivia, and audience members acting out scenes from other episodes.

For the uninitiated, "Once More With Feeling" features a tap-loving demon (played by Broadway star Hinton Battle), whose spell forces the residents of Sunnydale to sing and dance out their deepest secrets in songs ranging from rock opera to showstopper.

And, yes, one of the songs is about evil bunnies.

McClung, a former film studies major, mounted his first Buffy singalong in 2004 while working as a programmer at The Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston. To his surprise, 600 people turned out.

After regular screenings in New York and in Austin, Texas, the Buffy Musical Big Screen Extravaganza launched its first national tour this summer, repeatedly selling out shows.

"I think it's the writing," says McClung. "It's so well written you feel like every character is a little part of you. After all, everyone relates to what it is to be growing up."

Philip Rodrigues, a fan from Seattle, concurs. "The writing is so precise," he says. "Things in the first season, they'll mention again three seasons later."

While Buffy's saga of battling things that go bump in the night may resemble "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," McClung drew his inspiration from the Coolidge's sing-along to "The Sound of Music."

Cult shows such as "Buffy" have a long shelf life in this new networked culture, says Henry Jenkins, codirector of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. People record them while they are airing, discover them in reruns, or buy the DVDs and watch them over and over. Online fan communities in turn generate new rituals that bring aficionados together.

"Music was a special part of 'Buffy' from the very beginning – hence the production of a musical episode in the first place – and so the musical has become a centerpiece for one of the community's shared rituals," Mr. Jenkins says.

Joss Whedon, the series creator and a musical-theater buff, recently startled McClung by slipping into the back row of a Los Angeles screening. "I was totally bowled over. I had no idea he was there," McClung says.

For McClung, it's a joy to watch those who have never seen the television series join in the fun. Getting the viewers out of their seats for the dance sequence can be tough, he says, but you couldn't tell that in Seattle. By the end of Xander and Anya's romantic duet, audiences were up and dancing.

No wonder McClung is convinced that when it comes to "Buffy," the adage should be "once bitten, not shy."

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