A moody, lowlit jazz club vibe with Australian pianist Michael Curtain tickling the keys transports us out of the cavernous brick-walled auditorium of Brisbane’s Powerhouse Theatre and into the funeral for ‘George’, a New York socialite and scandal monger who has met with a violent end.

So begins Musica Viva Australia’s nationally touring showcase of the eclectic cabaret songs of the avant-garde New York composer William Bolcom, who, at 85, is very much alive and continuing a fruitful life composing American jazz, ragtime and vaudeville-influenced songs and performing with his acclaimed mezzo-soprano wife, Joan Morris.

Michael Curtain in Long Lost Loves (and Grey Suede Gloves). Photo © Charlie Hardy

It was Bolcom’s 1985 song George that inspired Ian Dickson and Paul Kildea to devise the funeral narrative, which director Constantine Costi has scripted (with dramaturg Hilary Bell) into a work featuring 20 tunes delivered by the multi-faceted mezzo-soprano Anna Dowsley and her polished accompanist Curtain.

The show begins with Dowsley crooning Can’t Sleep, before explaining to the audience that there is a delay due to the traffic problems. We are momentarily confused. Is she addressing the ‘funeral’ guests, or us, the audience?...