If a cabaret show of local legends performing hauntingly beautiful songs isn't enough to entice audiences, Julia Deans thinks the chance to see rocker Jon Toogood in a shirt and tie is.
Deans, the jokey Fur Patrol and The Adults frontwoman, is in town for the New Zealand Festival, with an encore run of hit show Brel: The Words and Music of Jacques Brel.
"I think his [Brel's] view on life is all at once pessimistic and optimistic - he sees the fantasy for what it is and is all too aware of the hard edges, but he embraces all of it," Deans says.
"It's really inspiring to perform material like that. It's like getting a good dose of medicine."
Deans is joined by Toogood, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Tama Waipara in the cabaret noir show.
A legend in his native Belgium, singer-songwriter Brel was also a big influence on English-speaking performers including David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. Hundreds of artists recorded cover versions of his material - his Ne Me Quitte Pas was adapted by Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand.
The show, directed by Michael Hurst, puts its own spin on Brel's celebrated songbook.
"I didn't know that I knew any Jacques Brel songs," Deans says. "But when I started looking into them I realised there were a number I was familiar with, in one form or another.
"I delved into him a little more, and just fell in love with the whole thing."
The performance is a sensitive interpretation of Brel's songs, the majority translated into English and performed as a series of short stories.
"We talked about what Brel meant or was saying in each of the stories.
"It stays true to the way they were originally performed, but makes them a bit more modern."
From Auckland to Christchurch, audiences have been flocking to the show, which is in the capital for the first time.
Deans, who is from Wellington, says it's nice to visit her hometown, but these days it can feel like visiting another city. "It's changed quite a lot since I was living there, just little bits and pieces."
She moved to Melbourne 13 years ago, and is now based in Auckland with partner David Wernham, a sound engineer. The pair are working to finish her second solo album. "I've been writing using a lot of old synth sounds, so it's going to sound a little bit different to the last one."
Now approaching her 40th birthday, Deans has found her songwriting has become a lot broader than her personal struggles and triumphs.
"As you get older, you do become a bit more aware of your own mortality. The further you get through life you encounter death a lot more. And birth - people leave and new people arrive."
The Words and Music of Jacques Brel, at the James Cabaret, runs from today until Sunday, 8.30pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News