The genre boundaries between musicals and opera have been blurring for a long while now and Speed Dating Tonight! is another example of how drama in modern opera continues to be carried forward primarily by music & singing, but now incorporates many of the dialogue, dance and acting elements traditionally found in musicals.
The music and libretto of Michael CHING while ‘contemporary’, was largely tonal, accessible and on occasion, paid tuneful, tongue-in-cheek tribute and references to classical composers like Mozart or Bizet that opera aficionados would appreciate. Musical interest was aptly sustained throughout the ca. 1 hour 15 min show by the interspersing of various solo arias, duets, trios and tutti, some of which were sung a cappella and showcasing the excellent musicianship of the entire cast.
The full-house, lively audience were thoroughly entertained throughout the show. The relatable individual characters were fleshed out via the arias and duets – finding love (successfully, or not), getting ghosted, or nailing the use of modern day texting abbreviations (LOL!) etc.
Kudos to excellent staging, lighting, dancing (choreographed by Max Ko) and slapstick surprises… that surreal tangent featuring a chorus of giant dancing, singing cockroaches was just OMG (I’ll have whatever they’re having from Hendrick’s Gin). There were plenty of spontaneity as well. A member of the audience responded to Bartender Quinn’s soliloquy with an audible “OK”, to which the quick thinking artist Samuel NG broke the 4th wall by giving a thumbs-up as he left a chuckling audience and exited downstage.
Music Director and pianist Aloysius Foong accompanies the action on the piano (and cajon!) with an excellent sensitivity to balance during songs and spoken bits.
The cast were all excellent performers and delivered a high level of performance. Music stalwarts like Reuben LAI, Akiko OTAO, Leslie TAY, Christina THÉ were reliable, delivering comedic and poignant moments with equal aplomb. What was personally noteworthy, were the equally good things happening with the younger performers like Preston LIM playing Dan (Dater) and Ted NGOO playing Marc (Busboy).
The role of Stephanie (Waitress) was shared between two persons and was admirably sung by NG Jingyun near the wings, with excellent movement acting from Chloe CHUA whose command of physical theatre brought the character to life despite being masked up throughout. This unusual arrangement, while somewhat disconcerting initially, is understandable – It was revealed during the curtain call that the first show had to be cancelled as 3 cast members were indisposed due to Covid-19 (get well soon!), and the 4 extraordinary young artists had to be brought in with 3-4 days notice to be performance ready.
Special mention and commendation must be made of the two outstanding young artists Samuel NG and Natasha Michella DA COSTA playing the roles of Quinn (Bartender) and Julie (Dater) respectively. Phenomenal memorisation speed aside, their performance felt organic and an integral part of the whole. Kudos also to Director Eleanor Tan for intelligent staging and to the rest of the cast for integrating them so very quickly and well.
Speed Dating Tonight! is an entertaining music package that packs a punch. In such difficult and darkest of times, the fabulous talent and resilience of this L’Arietta cast shines very brightly indeed! Congratulations!