“LA Pride: are you ready to have some fun?”
So proclaimed iconic GRAMMY and EMMY Award-winning artist Paula Abdul during her headlining set on Friday night’s inaugural LA Pride Opening Ceremony in West Hollywood Park. Judging by the night’s festivities, festival goers are certainly ready to let loose and celebrate the LGBTQ community this weekend at Pride.
Amidst rainbow headbands, sparkles, and mesh galore, thousands descended on Santa Monica Boulevard and West Hollywood Park to officially kick off LA Pride weekend. Free to the public, this new aspect of LA Pride weekend (presented by Johnson & Johnson) is a response to a community desire to have access to public Pride celebrations without having to purchase a Festival ticket. The event delivered, with show-stopping performances from both Abdul and Todrick Hall.
Adbul took to the stage in an hour-long set that dazzled the adoring crowds. Entering on a platform dramatically carted to center stage by male dancers, Adbul’s set took the form of a full production, complete with strobe lights, electronic background visuals, and dancers interacting with the pop diva. A storyline even journeyed watchers through Abdul’s career, from her days as a Laker Girl and fighting her record label to get Opposites Attract released as a single to her struggles with recovering from injuries sustained in a plane crash.
Hits including Cold Hearted (performed as to give Abdul multiple sets of arms while singing), Opposites Attract, and (It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me were performed. Abdul’s choreography included, besides tightly-worked ventures around the stage with her dancers, being thrown back-and-forth through the air and jumping off a platform at least ten feet tall into her dancers’ waiting arms – twice. These stunts attracted rapturous cheers, but the loudest crowd reactions were reserved for the performances of Straight Up – punctuated by chants of “Go Paula! Go Paula!” – and Forever Your Girl, accented by blasts of streamers and confetti. All of this, and I haven’t even mentioned that Adbul had no fewer than six distinct outfits prepared for her performance.
Todrick Hall was also no stranger to costume changes, showcasing four outfits himself during his set. Hall, known as a performing artist, choreographer, and frequent collaborator on RuPaul’s Drag Race, is also no slouch on choreography, matching Abdul’s moves with his own group of dancers performing flawlessly executed steps.
Emerging after a montage of his past hits were flashed on the screen, Hall opened with Attention, off his new EP Haus Party, Part 1. He continued in a leather unicorn number for Dem Beats, to the thrill of the thousands gathered. Hall and his troupe then showed off their versatile choreo over a melody of 90s classics in a show-within-a-show full of nostalgia and witty visuals. Closing with Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels (also played multiple times as dance music throughout the night as the song du jour of LA Pride), Hall brought out the fans, emblazoned with timely rainbow colors as audience members clapped along.
Prior to the performances, local elected officials and Christopher Street West organizers officially kicked off LA Pride in a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance, after witnessing a blessing over the festival by a Tongva Two-Spirit leader. Joining stage host Billy Francesca between the musical sets, they expressed their gratitude and support of the West Hollywood community.
“Our city is the seat of LGBT pride for the entire country,” proclaimed West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico. Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey Horvath concurred: “We gather together today – but we celebrate Pride here all year long.”
“We’re celebrating fifty years of the Stonewall Riots…this weekend, we’re celebrating all of the victories we’ve achieved,” said Estevan Montemayor, Board President of Christopher Street West.
Francesca affirmed this in pointing out one of the more simple, yet highly meaningful of these victories. “There are so many parts of the world where [being LGBTQ] is not the norm. How cool is it that this is a place where it’s the norm?”
While not offering all of the booths and events that will grace the Festival grounds on Saturday and Sunday, Friday’s Opening Ceremony had activities throughout the grounds in addition to the main stage happenings. A vogue ball was held on the smaller MAC Stage, featuring local ball culture leaders and a performance by drag queen Kornbread Jeté. Over on the Plaza Stage, Verizon Media premiered 5B, a documentary about the work of nurses and caregivers at America’s first AIDS ward unit in San Francisco. Outside the Festival grounds, LGBTQ women paraded down Santa Monica Boulevard in the annual Dyke March.
Adbul capped off the night’s festivities by expressing her gratitude to her loyal LGBTQ fans, as fireworks exploded above her in the West Hollywood sky. “I would not be anywhere without this community. The love and support you’ve given me leaves me breathless.”