ABINGDON, Va. — Rarely would cornpone country humor meet the sophistication of an opera.
These worlds almost never collide.
But they do with consistent comedy in “Madame Buttermilk,” now playing at the Gilliam Stage of the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia.
This is the story of an attractive brunette, Carly Speranza (portrayed by Hannah Ingram), who has always wanted to sing in the classic opera “Carmen.”
And, yes, she tells us this through nearly exasperating measures in this musical comedy.
Scene after scene, we hear more and more about her failed opera career.
The premise of this play, however, does provide promise.
Consider the comedy of an error: Speranza’s agent mistakenly casts her client as part of “The Car Men,” a country band, when she thought Speranza was taking a role in a “Carmen” opera performance.
That’s far from what Speranza wanted — yes. But this goof does give the gifted Speranza a chance to sing on stage — and even rekindle an old flame.
Only, you must brace yourself for Speranza’s stubborn streak. The singer spends most of “Madame Buttermilk” stuck in second gear, griping about how her life faced too many roadblocks.
We do, thankfully, get to see Speranza sing with the car-crazy Car Men Band, which likes to lace its lyrics with references to lights, bumpers and all things automobile.
The Car Men actually got me revved-up. I found myself exhausted by Speranza but fueled whenever the long-haired, country-crooning character Ford Fontaine cruised onstage.
Brilliantly portrayed by seasoned Barter actor Rick McVey, Fontaine is a loopy but lovable dope who slides through life with the luck of a duck. He’s the loud and crazy lead singer of The Car Men, an act that makes a living on a state fair stage.
If you know car talk, you’ll get even more of the jokes.
And if you brush up on your opera knowledge, you’ll likely be laughing out loud with this new musical by Ross Carter.