It’s official — at 9:28 p.m. on March 3, 2009, Britney Spears completed one of the biggest career turnarounds in music history by triumphantly taking the stage at the New Orleans Arena to kick off her first real concert tour in almost half a decade.

With the crowd roaring and cheering her on, Britney, in full ringmaster regalia, descended from the arena’s ceiling and onto the middle of the stage to perform the title track of her current hit album, Circus.

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Brit’s entrance was preceded by about 20 minutes of big-top spectacle, with clowns, jugglers, and apparently "ninjas" on hand to warm up the already-pumped audience.

The circus all took place on a mammoth round stage in the middle of the arena. Above Britney and her dancers hung a wrap-around video screen which switched back and forth between showing the performance and flashing photos, video clips and magazine headlines all chronicling one of the most bizarre years of any celebrity’s life.

While the crowd didn’t stop cheering for a moment during the 90-minute performance, Britney got the loudest applause during the encore, where she brought out the song that made her famous, "Hit Me Baby One More Time," and slipped into a slinky and sexy policewoman outfit to close out the show with "Womanizer."

Local gal Britney, who grew up only 50 miles away in Kentwood, La., felt the love of the crowd as the eclectic mix of young women, their boyfriends, young boys and girls and all of their parents, gave the hometown performer the opening night reception she was looking for.

Britney fan Robin McMahon, 24, of New Orleans said to OK!, "I came tonight to show support for Britney in her home state." And like a lot of Brit’s fans, the singer’s headline-making troubles of early 2008 didn’t deter Robin. "Everyone has their ups and downs. Hers are magnified because she’s a superstar."

"She pulled herself together and I want to support her," Allie Bacque, 20, of Lafayette, La., told OK!. "It was fantastic… couldn’t have been better!"

And while Britney’s once scandalous behavior has given some parents reason to doubt her stance as a role model, that’s not the case for 10-year-old Jonathan Tabora, whose folks, Ricardo and Alexandria, said they never thought twice about taking their son to the concert.

"We all make mistakes, we’re all human," Ricardo explained to OK!. "All three of us are fans."

The only critique we heard from some members of the audience was that Brit could have pushed the circus them even more.

"I was a little disappointed," 15-year-old Carly Johnson of New Orleans admitted to OK!. "I thought there would be tigers on stage, like a real circus."

"Yeah, like some elephants, too," Carly’s friend Morgan Hebert added. "How cool would that be?"

The Circus train has one day off after making its rousing debut, and then it’s off to Atlanta’s Philips Arena to see if she can do it all one more time.

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