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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

One of those wonderful Fringe surprises: a show running only two nights with the unprepossessing title,  Speed Dating TONIGHT! turns out to be so good in such unexpected and charming ways.

The show, conceived by Dean Anthony, is a series of musical vignettes composed by Michael Ching and sung by eight impressive opera singers who play two bartenders and many many speed daters: desperate, brash, shy, sad, lonely, sweet, awkward, obsessed (he with his Buick, she with her cats); they are liars, weirdos, and earnest twenty-somethings who are all hoping to meet Somebody. They are all nervous, wondering if it's too late.

A few of the tables in the Duel Piano Bar (the place's name seems perfect for this show) are reserved for the performers, while the audience sits at the rest of the tables or leans against the bar. Ting Ting Wong plays the grand piano, two daters sit down, sing their stories, their longings, their wishes, their bios to each other until a bell rings, and two more daters arrive.

This contemporary scene and its flat, ordinary language ("Oh my God, my ex is here!") presented operatically is at once startling and then seems perfect for all that emotion, all that desperation, all that yearning.

The complicated comings-and-goings in a crowded bar are directed by Siddhartha Misra who manages to create remarkably fluid, realistic action. The singers (who are also good actors) are: Jackson Williams, Sara Stejskal, Danielle Horta, Willliam Lim, Peter Christian, Andrew Shaw, Jennifer Holbrook and Brynn Terry.

Fingers crossed they all come back for a longer run next year.


Duel Piano Bar, 1420 Locust ST. ($15-20, inc. a drink).Ends Sept.12.