Readers couldn’t keep their lips sealed this week when reviews came out for Head Over Heels, the new Broadway jukebox musical featuring the music of the Go-Go’s.
An updated take on Sir Philip Sidney’s Elizabethan romp Arcadia, adapted by James Magruder, the musical focuses on an ancient Greek royal family. The first openly trans woman to originate a principal role on Broadway, RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9 runner-up Peppermint stars as Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi.
In his review for the New York Times, theater critic Ben Brantley intentionally misgendered Peppermint’s non-binary character, who uses they/them pronouns in the show.
Brantley’s original review, which referred to “binary” as “what’s starting to feel like the decade’s most overused word,” included a joke about another character who “finds himself strangely drawn to her–I mean them.”
This comment is at best, unfunny, and worst, transphobic. We’ve got to do better, folks! Haven’t seen @HOHmusical, but this problematic @nytimestheater review just made it jump to the top of my list! pic.twitter.com/ope6e3vb5P
— Andrew Keenan-Bolger (@KeenanBlogger) July 27, 2018
Responding to swift online criticism, the Times updated the review Friday morning to read that the character “finds himself strangely drawn to Pythio.”
Brantley then issued a public apology, writing, “I feel horrible about having offended transgender and nonbinary communities. I was trying to reflect the light tone of the show, as well as a plot point in which one character learns to acknowledge another not as ’she’ but as ’they’—this was meant to be a reference to the character of the Oracle, not Peppermint, the person who plays the role.”
Here is Ben Brantley's response to the conversation surrounding his review of "Head Over Heels" https://t.co/48Xr2xgOjK. We are updating the review to reflect some of our readers' concerns now. pic.twitter.com/3SjcC1qAuk
— NYTimes Communications (@NYTimesPR) July 27, 2018
“This unfortunately read as more flippant than I would ever have intended, especially with regard to a performance that marks a historical first,” Brantley continued. “I am deeply sorry.”
Peppermint recently told NewNowNext that her character is “non-binary, so they are neither male nor female—or they’re both, depending on how you want to look at it.” She went on to describe Pythio as “definitely a supernatural character—a bit of a shape-shifter in both gender and form.”
Produced by Gwyneth Paltrow and directed by Tony winner Michael Mayer, Head Over Heels features a book by Tony winner Jeff Whitty and Go-Go’s hits like “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” plus Belinda Carlisle solo singles “Mad About You” and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.”
Head Over Heels is now playing at the Hudson Theatre in New York.