Melbourne’s annual gay and lesbian Midsumma festival kicks off this Saturday with the traditional Commercial Road street party, the event which each year heralds three weeks of celebrations, performances and exhibitions in the city.

Despite concerns that the 2002 street party may be the last to be held, over 50,000 people are expected to descend on Commercial Road this Saturday and take in entertainment ranging from cabaret shows to street theatre and drag events.

Midsumma president Nigel Higgins said this year’s festival will be the brightest and most colourful season in the event’s 14-year history.

We’re really looking forward to catering for the bigger sized crowds at the opening night party as well the madness and mayhem that we always expect from our major public space events such as the carnival and pool party, Higgins told Sydney Star Observer.

As has been the case in previous years, Commercial Road will be transformed into a Promenade of Pride for this Saturday’s opening night party as restaurants, bars and caf?open onto the main street to cater for the thousands of revellers who will attend the event.

This year’s street party entertainment will also include long-time drag favourites, the Waitress Race and Xchange Hotel’s Rooftop Drag Xtravaganza, as well as a new Drag Cheerleader Contest on Commercial Road.

The street party will act as the gateway for one of the broadest arts and cultural programs ever hosted by Midsumma. There will be 15 visual arts exhibitions, 19 literary events, 12 plays, eight cabaret performances and six multi-media shows on offer for the 2002 season as well as forums, debates and sporting events.

The opening night party takes place on Commercial Road, South Yarra, between 5pm and midnight this Saturday.

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