ST. PETERSBURG — On Friday, while people were lining up to see Idina Menzel perform at this year’s St. Pete Pride pre-parade concert, news began circulating that a federal judge had temporarily blocked a Florida law said to be aimed at drag performances. When the doors to Jannus Live opened and the growing crowd was told, they erupted into cheers.
The tone of the night was set. It was going to be an all-out celebration.
Host Angelique Young-Cavalier echoed this throughout the evening, joking that “dreams really do come true when you’re gay.” The event began with poetry from spoken word artist Queen Sheba and a performance from local teen girl rock band Anarkitty.
The band cycled through original songs and hits like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” with ease, ending on Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” which had the crowd singing along. Its lead singer, Anika Sky, wore a pointed “God save the drag queen” shirt on stage at the 18-and-over event.
Last year, the concert was held at the public Spa Beach Park with general admission tickets costing $10. This year, they were $35. But that didn’t keep a sizable crowd from coming out.
People traveled from all over the state to be there — for a chance to see and hear Menzel in the flesh. JD Manarang came from Fort Lauderdale and planned on heading back the next day. As one of the first to line up for the event, he got acquainted with Judy B. Good, a 68-year-old wearing an “I heart Idina Menzel” tank top who brought flowers for the famous Broadway singer. They’d both never seen Menzel perform before.
Just before Menzel came out, the sky darkened with gray clouds and gusts of wind rolled through. The threat of rain was on everyone’s mind — that is, until the sounds of Menzel’s song “Dramatic” started playing.
Out she waltzed on stage wearing a hooded rainbow cape, which later revealed a shoulder-padded jumpsuit. The wind came in handy for lines like “Let me be dramatic. I can be dramatic,” as it blew her hair around and provided some relief from the heat for all. The sounds of people opening and closing foldable fans added to the energy.
Menzel said she was happy to perform in St. Petersburg, and addressed the crowd directly several times by asking them if they were staying hydrated and ignoring “bullies” who try to rattle them.
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“There’s so much adversity and there’s so much hatred, cruelty and you meet that cruelty with love … and joy and hope,” she said.
Nearly every phone was up and out when she sang “Let it Go” from “Frozen,” “No Day but Today” from “Rent” and “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” which she dedicated to trans and LGBTQ+ youth.
“If you are feeling alone and like nobody sees you, we see you. We are here for you. You are not alone, and if you do not feel supported in your school or your home, we will be your home. … They can never keep you down,” she said.
Toward the end of her set, she brought out local drag performers including those in the Pride Court, Miss, Mr and Mx St. Pete Pride. For those who stayed after Menzel left, a drag show featuring them rounded out the night.
Couple Jonette and Towana Bacchus-Yates were among those who stuck around, dancing and enjoying the drag show. They live in Lakeland, have attended the St. Pete Pride parade multiple times and are big Menzel fans. “Wicked” was the show they saw when they first got married 10 years ago. To them, it was especially meaningful to be there.
“It felt so good to be in an environment where we felt safe and seen and to come together as community. It was everything,” Jonette said.