Monday, August 04, 2008

The best Whedonverse singers

Greetings, Park Benchers! I'm Shan, and I'll be your guest blogger today. I normally blog over on The Nonsensical Ravings of a Lunatic Mind about television, movies, sci-fi, pop culture, news and UGA football. While the wonderful Liz is away, she's graciously asked me to help keep you entertained.

With the recent release of the 100% awesome Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, and the fact that after looking high and low for the soundtrack to Buffy's "Once More With Feeling" on iTunes, I finally found it for download on Amazon's MP3 site, I thought I would discuss the "singers" from those two seminal works.

This is a perfect confluence of topics to address, since I like making lists (typically, in a feature I call "The Canon"), regularly play a couch potato version of Randy, Paula and Simon with weekly American Idol reviews (the only reality show to make it past my "quality television" filter, though "quality" is a dubious term for AI), and of course, because I'm a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer nerd. So, without further ado:

The Canon: Best Whedonverse Singers

First, a few caveats. I'm only considering the pure musical episodes, meaning "Once More With Feeling" and the entirety of Dr. Horrible. So you won't see any reference to Christain Kane, Julie Benz, Andy Hallet or David Boreanaz (Manilow!) singing on Angel, or anyone belting out "The Hero of Canton, The Man They Call Jayne" on Firefly. And I'm only ranking "series regulars," so you won't find the sublime Hinton Battle, who portrayed the demon "Sweet" on "OMWF." ("What You Feel" is probably my most played tune from the soundtrack). Or David Fury (how many of my fellow geeks regularly proclaim "they got....the mustard....out!" loudly when getting your dry cleaning? Just me? Moving on...) or Marti Noxon (parking tickets never seemed so heartbreaking). Finally, I realize that not everyone in the Buffy cast was completely enthused, or confident, about doing a musical, so there's no stigma attached to being at the bottom of the list.

1. Anthony Stewart Head. Giles' singing wasn't a surprise, after the Scoobies caught him performing "Behind Blue Eyes" during the otherwise disappointing "Where The Wild Things Are." But Head is quite the accomplished singer, with a background in musical theatre, and his "Standing" is truly heartbreaking. (Trivia: did everyone know that his older brother Murray was a one-hit wonder in the 80s with "One Night in Bangkok?")

2. Neil Patrick Harris. Who knew that Barney Stinson (or Doogie, if you prefer) was so musically talented? I was aware that he had performed on Broadway, notably in Cabaret and Assassins, but damn, was he good in Dr. Horrible. He handled both the uptempo numbers and the ballads with equal aplomb, and if you can move someone deep inside with an ode to a Freeze Ray, then you belong toward the top of this list.

3. Felicia Day. As the frozen yogurt, laundry and homeless loving Penny, Day was the lovely and tragic catalyst for the events of the Sing-Along Blog. She didn't have any true showstoppers to perform, but she has a clear and beautiful voice.

4. Amber Benson. While "Under Your Spell's" choreography won't make Bob Fosse roll over in his grave, Benson wonderfully captured Tara's love for Willow in strong voice, and her reprise of this tune, combined with Head's "Standing," gives you chillbumps.

5. James Marsters. "Rest in Peace" was a terrific showcase for Marsters' rock singer vibe, and musically and thematically perfect for Spike.

6. Emma Caufield. Her surreal, hysterical ranting about bunnies in "I've Got A Theory" is entertaining enough, but she also handled the Cole Porter-esque, playful back and forth in "I'll Never Tell" with tuneful wit.

7. Sarah Michelle Gellar. Unlike many young starlets of today, Gellar had no ambitions to release a sugary, wafer-thin pop music album, and only approached the singing in "OMWF" as an extension of the character she inhabited so very well. For someone without a significant background in musicals, she performed adequately carrying the bulk of the musical plot. What she lacked in pitch-perfect vocals, she more than compensated with a heartfelt and moving performance.

8. Nathan Fillion. Captain Hammer didn't sing his most memorable line ("The hammer is my penis."), but he did perfectly convey the hero's doltish and narcissistic charm in his opening number atop the remote-controlled van, and his final episode ode to the homeless.

9. Nicholas Brendon. He didn't have to hit the big notes to entertain; his verbal gymnastics and lyrical tap-dancing through "I've Got A Theory" and "I'll Never Tell" brought a smile and was 100% Xander.

10. Michelle Trachtenberg. Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday. Didn't have much to do, didn't want to do much, but her dancing was lovely, right?

11. Alyson Hannigan. "I think this line is mostly filler." Sweet, adorable Willow. Thank goodness her powerhouse acting can carry virtually any other episode.

So there you have it, Park Benchers. Agree or disagree? What are your favorite musical moments from "Once More With Feeling" or Dr. Horrible? Which singers rack up the biggest play count on your iTunes?

Finally, as an extra special guest blog bonus, I'll select one random lucky Park Bench commenter to receive their choice of an iTunes credit for the full series of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, or a copy of the "Once More With Feeling" soundtrack.

Thanks to Liz for letting me be Julie McCoy, your blog cruise director around these parts for a day.


Apple of Carthage said...

Once More With Feeling is one of the most formative events in modern television history. As an academic economist, I find Joss Whedon's brand-building through truly pleasing his fans paid off with Dr. Horrible.

I would have placed Amber Benson higher on the list, however. She was the true surprise from OMWF. Her reprise of "Under Your Spell" is one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen, and the duet with ASH in harmony in the reprise of "Standing" is the best song of all.

You could watch OMWF with no sound, and comprehend the entire story from the richness of the sets. You could (and I DO) listen to the soundtrack and hear the story with no visuals. Put them together, and I still can't believe they didn't give Whedon a Golden Globe.

Dr. Horrible is stuck in my head, which I suppose is the true signpost of a hit. I'm humming "Brand New Day" under my breath in the labs, and singing along to Captain Hammer--even though I wish I wasn't!--with "Everyone's a Hero".

In Dr. Horrible, Nathan Fillion really should have been put closer to the top of the list. It's not that he's a better singer than NPH, but that, like unto Amber Benson, he was the biggest surprise when it came to vocal talent. It's easy to sing, harder to sing well, and damn near impossible to sing well, act, balance on a moving van, and mug for the camera all at the same time.

Benson and Fillion need to put out a damn album. I'd buy it and be guaranteed of amazing singing and campy humor--what more could you ask?

Anonymous said...

Anyone who's looking to hear more Anthony Stewart Head should check out a CD he did with George Sarah called "Music for Elevators." It's terrific, and Joss Whedon contributed the best song, "Last Time" (Amber Benson's on backing vocals). George Sarah was one-half of THC, the band behind Veruca's band Shy in Buffy's fourth season. "Elevators" is a great collaboration between two really talented guys.

If you noodle around on the website for the band Common Rotation, you'll find a song called "Tom Dooley," which is sung by Amber Benson. Not the most polished performance ever, but endearing nevertheless, in a college-coffeehouse kind of way, and it can be downloaded for free! I was never a fan of Benson's acting, but her singing voice is excellent.

BigMatt99 said...

You left one biggie out from the Whedonverse, our favorite crooning bar owning demon, Lorne (played by Andy Hallett).

Anonymous said...

Mein microlist:
1. Amber Benson
2. Anthony Stewart Head
3. Andy Hallett (I know you sort of vetoed him a bit, but I can't help myself)

After that they're sort of a blur - but an impressive blur. They all hold their own nicely, though I agree that as a whole the Dr Horrible performances are slightly better than those of OMWF (which makes sense).

However, this seems as good a time as any to say that I've always thought James' performance in OMWF was rather weak. Considering he's a singer, he was off-key pretty much all of the time. Made me wonder if he could even hold a tune, but I've heard him since then and yes, he can.

Maybe it was tough to sing whilst keeping the accent. And he did do that pretty well.

Shan said...

I did mention Lorne, as well as everyone's favorite "short-handed" ex-lawyer, Lindsey McDonald, among others, in the beginning disclaimer. Just for clarity's sake, when I drafted the original post, it was "best singers in a whedonverse musical." So I really intended to focus on just OMWF and Dr. Horrible, instead of opening up the discussion and evaluations to everyone who has ever crooned a note on a Joss show. Somehow, in transmitting the post content over to Liz, I must have left off the part in the title about the "musical," so it does look like I may have slighted Hallett, Kane and others who have graced us with their vocal stylings. Not really my intention, and I hope everyone enjoys the debate and discussion anyway.

I think we can all agree that whether the actors sound like Sinatra or William Hung, both OMWF and Dr. Horrible are brilliant, wonderful pieces and everyone gives their all to the characters and the story, which is the truly important thing.

Anonymous said...

Two more bits on Murray Head. He is actually best known not for "One Night in Bangkok," but for originating the role of Judas on the soundtrack of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, which was released in advance of its initial stage performance. Also, I've read that Anthony sang back up on "One Night in Bangkok," though I've not been able to confirm this.

Green, not Granola said...

Some trivia: "One Night in Bangkok" was actually from the concept album for the musical Chess, which had a run in London. It was written by the two songwriters from Abba along with Tim Rice (of Evita fame). It is famous for being one of the most challenging roles for a male in musical theatre. Supposedly, Murray Head fried his voice singing it... and Anthony Stewart Head took over the part!! while Chess was never a hit, the concept album spawned many hit songs. The musical is a bit of a holy grail for musical lovers who long to see a good production of it get its due....

Kathe said...

I think my favorite song from OMWF is Walk Thru the Fire, followed by Where Do We Go From Here as a close second. I just love that episode. I was very surprised by NPH and Fillion's vocal stylings after watching Dr. Horrible! I think Joss needs to continue making musicals. They rock (if you'll pardon the pun!)

DropEdge said...

I cannot tell you how many times I've sung along with the "OMWF" soundtrack and pretended to be every single character. (Which means I have to sing Walk Through the Fire and Where Do We Go From Here? something like nine times each.)

I need, need, NEED for Dr. Horrible's soundtrack to be released right this very minute.

Ohnjaye said...

The list should include Adam Busch (Warren Meers), who fronts the band Common Rotation.

Hope Persen said...

I second the humming of "Everyone's a Hero". That song is SO stuck in my head!

I still think it's far harder to do comedy than tragedy. Tragedy doesn't require the timing that comedy does, and Nathan Fillion was note-perfect throughout DHSAB (pun most definitely intended).

Jen said...

Caveats aside Christian Kane really did belt it out...

It's too bad we couldn't see Jonathan (and the Trio) singing on OMWF - he did a decent in Season 4's Superstar (then again, I'm probably the only person who actually enjoyed Season 4).

Jen said...

Okay, the password is "proofread."

That should have been "he did a decent enough job in Season 4's Superstar."


Jordan T. Maxwell said...

switch Amber Benson with Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion with SMG, and i'm pretty much in agreement.

(though it is a crime to exclude the vocal talents showcased on Angel. ;) )

elizabeth_ann said...

i agree with basically what else has been said here, so i won't post my own thoughts...

just a comment to Jen about Danny Strong as Jonathan in Superstar. Danny didn't do the singing in that episode. It was sung by Brad Kane (who incidently played the role of Tucker Wells, Andrews brother, in The Prom). Brad is also the singing voice for Aladdin.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder. I have been meaning to rip OMWF CD into my iTunes. I considered it quite a stroke of good fortune when I found a sealed copy at the used book store and it lived in my car CD changer forever. In fact, it would seem that's where it is now.
So, my new mission for today is to find the cartridge (how many times have I reminded myself to never remove it from the car!?)

j. bowers said...

Amber Benson should be higher on the list, I agree. And I think SMG's a bit too "pitchy" to qualify higher than Xander...

Also, I wish you hadn't left Lorne off the list. :-(

Ah well. Very entertaining!

Roxychan said...

While Felicia Day did a nice job, I don't think she rates higher than Amber Benson.

And while SMG may not have the best voice of them all, I think she should be a bit higher on this list if only because she is NOT a singer and yet she took it on (and succeeded), while others (i.e. ASH, Amber) have a background in singing.

Jen said...

Thanks for the correction Elizabeth Ann!

michelle said...

I would've swapped Amber and Felicia on the list, but mostly agree. It's too bad Andy Hallet or Christian Kane weren't worked into one of those shows.

Gina said...

Well, if you knew Neil had been in a Sondheim show (a couple, actually) on Broadway, then why would you be unaware of/surprised by his talents? ;) No normal Joe can do a Sondheim show or any show on Broadway that has received acclaim. If you don't have the talent, best suck it up and work harder.

Or go try out for a part via MTV. They're taking anybody looks like.

Anonymous said...

Doc says he is working on the soundtrack of Dr. Horrible and it will be available thru iTunes. Joss said he hopes to have actual CD at some point.

Doc is also working on ringtones and has some links to fan ones.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

grace said...

I agree with everything except Felicia Day--she didn't do it for me.

My Buffyverse favorite song is one that hasn't been in a musical, though--Christian Kane as Lindsay at Caritas. That was so surprising and so good.

Pop Princess said...

I will admit to not seeing "Once More With Feeling" so I can only agree with half of this list, but I totally agree with that half. I mean, I now have a nerd crush on Neil Patrick Harris after this. That's how good that guy is.

Lissy said...

Amber Benson definitely deserves the top spot. Under Your Spell is not an easy song to sing at all and she did it perfectly.

Anonymous said...

D'oh! How could I have forgotten Christian Kane? Amazing voice--check out and order his band's CD (nice mix of country and rock, and I'm not normally a country music fan).

It's kind of scary how much music I ended up discovering because of Whedon's shows.

While I haven't always loved Whedon's writing choices, damn, that man can pen a song! How can one person be so disgustingly talented?

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your list. But I have to agree with my fellow commenters about Amber Benson needing to be higher on the list. Felicia has a nice voice. She did a great job in Dr. Horrible. But Amber sang and danced while wearing a really tight bodice. Her beautiful rendition of "Under Your Spell" made everyone watching a lesbian for approx. 1.2 minutes. Her reprise with ASH's "Standing" was simply heartbreaking.