When Britney Spears takes the stage at the New Orleans Arena on Tuesday, March 3 - the opening night of her Circus tour - the stakes will never be higher.
Singles such as the title track, "Womanizer" and "If U Seek Amy" are burning up the radio, but if Spears can't hack it live, she'll never be truly back on top.
After two years of personal drama, this concert tour will either make or break the professional comeback Larry Rudolph has been orchestrating since last fall.
According to sources, Britney Spears, 27, who left Friday for Louisiana, has been hard at work preparing for the show, which will feature her signature sexy dance moves, a stage filled with three circus rings, and magic tricks.
"She's pretty determined," a friend told celeb news mag People. "She missed singing and performing and the freedom of that. It gives her an escape and it's what she loves to do, so she's definitely thankful to be doing that again."
Although the star seemed to be back to her old form when she sang "Womanizer" on Good Morning America in December, the concert will be her biggest since her epic meltdown at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards (above, right).
As for Spears' last tour, waaaaaaay back in 2004, that was canceled after the singer injured her knee during a video shoot. She spent her newfound free time with then-boyfriend Kevin Federline; they were engaged that summer.
Bottom line? Girl is way past her musical prime (see above, left). Can she recapture the live magic? And will fans still turn out in droves to support her?
So far, the buzz for the upcoming 31-city outing is strong. Tickets have sold well, with some shows already sold out even in these tough economic times.
Of course, some interest may stem from the sideshow that is her personal life.
Wednesday, her father and conservator, Jamie Spears, was granted an extension on a restraining order against his daughter's ex-manager Sam Lutfi.Jamie Spears holds indefinite legal control over her life following her two forced hospitalizations in January 2008. In a hearing on Monday, Jamie testified that prior to his stepping in, Britney's life "was pretty well a disaster."
"She had nothing going on, just mostly [being] in the tabloids. [But now] she's eating properly, she's very stable, making her meetings, taking care of her babies [Sean Preston and Jayden James], doing things she's supposed to do."
Britney's former, now current manager said in November that dancing and singing is what helped the embattled singer get her life back on track.
"She identifies with her career in a lot of ways and getting her career back is a great therapeutic thing for her," he explained. "She's better when she puts her energy into that."
Still, legal experts say her father could remain in control for months or even years. Britney will only regain her independence once she proves to the court – backed by doctors' opinions – that she can handle her own affairs.
Is she ready for the main event Tuesday night? The pop star's friend worries the tour may be too much for the singer to handle, but notes that "it's what her team thought was best."
What will make the trip easier is that Federline is taking the couple's kids on the road so they can keep up their regular visitation schedule with mom.
He's willing to do so for a mere $5,000 per week for his troubles.
"Having [Sean Preston and Jayden James Federline] with her is going to make all the difference," says a source. "They are the reason she can do this."
Click to enlarge photos of Britney prepping for the big tour ...