Peppermint Reveals How She Landed Her Non-Binary Role in Broadway’s “Head Over Heels”

Also: Will pedophilia come up in the new Michael Jackson musical?

Peppermint, the first runner up from the ninth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, now makes a splash on Broadway as Pythio in Head Over Heels, a new musical using the songs of the ‘80s girl group the Go-Go’s to tell a story with a message. I called Peppermint to talk about this fancy development, and our lips were not sealed.

Hi, Peppermint. Congratulations! I’m so proud of you.

Thank you.

How did you get the part in Head Over Heels?

I auditioned for it. After Drag Race, I had all of a sudden an agent and manager and an assistant—that was all new to me—and right away, offers and auditions started coming in. I was on tour in Europe with Christmas Queens. Late at night in my hotel room, I’d read the script and record my audition and send it back. I did it several times throughout the process. Then they said, “Get on a red eye from Scotland for a final callback.” I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, but I did and I’m happy I did because I got the part.
 

The show uses Go-Go’s music, but it’s not about the Go-Go’s.

It’s not about the Go-Go’s. It’s about a royal family who have some lessons to learn and an oracle, played by me, who has a message to deliver. It’s a message of possible impending doom unless they change their ways, and the clock is ticking.

It’s set in Utopia—a land called Arcadia that was written about in a poem. The book was written by Jeff Whitty [Avenue Q], who took this little poem from the 15th century and put it with the music of the Go-Go’s.

So this is not the Donna Summer show.

This is not the Donna Summer show. As much as I’d love to have Donna Summer come across the stage and have all my worlds suddenly collide…but it’s not that show. [laughs]

Can you describe the part you play? Is your character trans?

I play an oracle who has more than one connection to the royal family. This person has a little bit of an axe to grind. But they are non-binary, so they are neither male nor female—or they’re both, depending on how you want to look at it. Kind of a wonderful mishmash of both.

Is Pythio a supernatural character?

Yeah, definitely a supernatural character—a bit of a shape-shifter in both gender and form.

Santiago Felipe/Getty

How is the discipline of theater different from clubs and TV?

It’s kind of a composite of the two. Live theater, anything can go wrong and you have to roll with it. In nightclub performances, there’ve been more of my share of times where something doesn’t happen properly, the mic doesn’t work, something is broke, and you have to go with it, especially a drag show in a gay bar. I’m used to that. As for TV, it’s an insane schedule, as I’m sure you know. It’s very brutal and long hours. But the great thing about TV is once it’s done, it’s done. With Broadway, it’s like a TV schedule, but it’s never done because there’s another one tomorrow.

I know rehearsals are challenging. But have they been fun?

I don’t know if fun is the first word I’d use, but they’ve been great. We had a wonderful reception in San Francisco. It’s a great city, a really accepting theater community. We had a seal of approval from Bob the Drag Queen, who took a break from Angels in America. It’s been wonderful becoming a part of a family. Many people in the show are Broadway novices, but so talented.

And you’re the first trans female to play a lead in a Broadway show?

Yeah. The more exact term is “first trans female actress to originate a principal role on Broadway.” The only reason for being so specific is there may have been some closeted trans people who weren’t out and didn’t feel feel safe in their jobs, to no surprise. I don’t want to take that away from them. Yeah, it’s a history-making moment. And the character, as far as we know, is the first non-binary character on Broadway. It’s a big moment.

When you were performing as a drag queen in New York clubs and bars, did you realize you were a woman?

I think I always knew I was female in my brain. I didn’t know it was possible to live a life as the type of woman people would expect. There were several things about me, obviously, that made it so I didn’t fit in with other women, but I fit in with drag queens. I’m still a drag queen. Drag allowed me the opportunity and space to explore all that and figure out what kind of performer and person I am, and it also allowed me to pay my bills for years and realize my goals to transition as a woman, and I’m still very connected to that.

Santiago Felipe/Getty

When were you transitioning?

I started my medical transition in 2012, before I even auditioned for Drag Race. Medically, I started my transition slowly but surely over time, underneath my drag persona. I’d run into people on the street before or after a show and they’d say, “Wait a minute. Are you transitioning?” I’d deny it at the time because I didn’t feel safe to talk about that with someone I just met at a bar, but that’s what was going on.

You were always a terrific singer and dancer. Do you feel those are your strong qualities?

I feel like they’re my qualities—I don’t know if they’re my strongest ones. I’ll leave that to the audience to decide. Being able to sing and dance, I found that road a little later on. I went to AMDA [American Musical and Dramatic Academy]. When I graduated, there were no roles for me. I wanted to be this woman onstage and in my life, and there was no part of Broadway auditions that was having any of that, so drag was accessible. Drag and survival sex work were the only choices I thought I had. So I went into drag and was able to blaze my own trail, and later on, bring live singing and dancing into my drag performance because initially I was just lipsynching. It’s more than kismet to be able to bring all of that to this work.

Did you ever do sex work?

I never did sex work. It was something I was going to have to choose between, but I chose drag. I could have done both, I guess, but I chose drag.

That’s not what I heard. Kidding. [We laugh.] You were always one of the nicest queens in a scene where, let’s face it, some performers can be a tad bitchy. Does being that way come naturally to you?

Yeah, it’s part of who I am. I try to be genuine with people. It’s not like I’m trying to be nice. If I’m in a great mood and I’m happy, I will show that. If I’m not, I’ll say, “I’m not really feeling it today.” When I’m out in a club setting, I’m in a great mood and I’m happy. A lot of times I’m counting my blessings that I have this opportunity.

ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty

And you do owe a lot to my write-ups, right? I was one of the first people to give you press.

Yes, you did. Wonderful reviews and write-ups so early on in my career. I’m so very thankful. It’s still the lead quote in my bio!

Oh, good. You’re not like those other girls who climb all over people to the top. [We laugh.] Congrats, and I can’t wait to see you in the show.

 

Remember the Time

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Another offbeat, pop-star-driven musical coming to Broadway is the just-announced show about the life of superstar singer Michael Jackson, using his songs, with a script written by Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage. But will the show address the pedophilia buzz that surrounded Jacko for decades? Well, let me put it to you this way. Summer: The Donna Summer Musical doesn’t go too deep into that singer’s homophobia—it pretty much gives it a whitewash, and don’t forget her husband, Bruce Sudano, consulted on the show.

In this case, Jackson’s estate is behind the musical, so you can bet that they will either:

(A) Portray all of Jackson’s accusers–including any who were paid off big bucks—as extortionists and liars and remind everyone that Michael was declared not guilty in his 2005 court case.

(B) It won’t be mentioned at all.

I’m surprised Nottage sold her soul to be part of this project, which, by nature of it being authorized, is bound to be phony about certain things. Will it tell the truth about Michael’s complicated sexuality and awful father? We’ll see. Let’s hope it shows the amazing performer as brilliant but “off the wall.”
 

License to Thrill


The one-man show gets new life thanks to an illusionist named Vitaly, who’s making his New York debut with an entry accurately subtitled An Evening of Wonders. Vitaly is not out to fool people, but to instead instill them with an “Oh, wow feeling,” accompanied by a sense of “How the hell did he do that?”

Incorporating a lot of audience participation, the Russian-born performer (who grew up in Israel and lives in Vancouver) makes things levitate, causes playing cards to vanish and reappear, and somehow prompts driver’s licenses from the crowd to erase and/or exchange info and photos.

“I have more personal information than Mark Zuckerberg” joked Vitaly as he collected the licenses from willing audience members. (It’s amazing how the crowd does whatever he asks them to, obviously enjoying their chance to be part of a memorable stunt.)

At another point, he asked audience members to write down a famous dead person’s name, claiming that someone once scribbled “David Hasselhoff.” “But David hasn’t passed,” noted Vitaly with a glint, “only his career.” The result of that segment had Whitney Houston’s face popping up on a male license—one of many shocks throughout the enjoyable evening.

The illusionist only made one mistake, in a set piece where he serves people drinks while blindfolded, but that made me appreciate him even more. If what he does is fallible, then his success rate is quite astounding. Vitaly said he even “fooled” Penn and Teller, who started out at this very same theater. Or let’s just say he filled them with wonder.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.
@mikeymusto