Is this controversial piece of music theatre a masterwork for our times?

Few pieces of music polarise listeners as much as Leonard Bernstein’s Mass.A riotously colourful Christian mass setting by a secular Jewish composer; a vernacular libretto by Stephen Schwartz ( Godspell); commissioned in memory of John F Kennedy; composed at the height of the Vietnam War and not long after Woodstock… It was one of the most potent cocktails of musics and cultures to emerge in the 20 thcentury.

The New York Timescalled it “the greatest mélange of styles since the ladies’ magazine recipe for steak fried in peanut butter and marshmallow sauce,” while one archbishop railed against it as “a blatant sacrilege against all we hold sacred.”

Forty years on, audiences are starting to see the light when it comes to this misunderstood, controversial work. Australians will have the chance to re-evaluate Bernstein’s magnum opus when it is staged at the Adelaide Festival March 9-10.

Director Andy Packer has big plans for his production of  Mass.“Bernstein calls it a theatre work for singers, players and dancers, so he really was thinking of it as much more than just an oratorio or concert work,” he explains. “Rather than setting...