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Peppermint twist: Trans actress is the breakout star of 'Head Over Heels'

Peppermint stars as Pythio in the Broadway musical

Peppermint stars as Pythio in the Broadway musical "Head Over Heels," which opens Thursday, July 26. Credit: Joan Marcus

The moment Peppermint appears on stage in “Head Over Heels” she gets a huge ovation at the Hudson Theatre.

Is it because fans know her from finishing second in Season 9 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”? Is it because they’re excited to hear her character Pythio take on The Go-Go’s chestnut “Vision of Nowness”? Or is it because they want to cheer her on as the first female trans actor ever to originate a role on Broadway?

Peppermint isn’t sure, but she is definitely grateful for it.

“It’s a joy and it’s a surprise every night,” says Peppermint, calling from the Hudson Theatre, where “Head Over Heels” opens on Thursday. “I won’t be taking anything for granted — whether it’s the schedule or people applauding. I’m thankful to have butts in the seats and people there to enjoy the show, especially given that a lot of people don’t know what the show is about when they come other than it has The Go-Go’s music.”

It’s true that “Head Over Heels --“ loosely based on Sir Philip Sidney’s 16th century British poem “Arcadia,” with songs by The Go-Go’s and some solo material from lead singer Belinda Carlisle -- is a little difficult to explain without spoiling it.

“It’s about a royal family who have to change or die after talking to an oracle,” Peppermint offers. “But I don’t think we can say much more . . . I love the fact that the show is such a secret.”

She adds, “I would tell people that it’s hilarious and that the Go-Go’s music is fantastic, which we already know.”

The cast members often speak in rhyming verse when they’re not belting out “Our Lips Are Sealed” or “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” and the storyline similarly mixes new and olde, similar to how the show’s director, Michael Mayer, handled it in “Spring Awakening.”

“I think that is the brilliant balance between the wonderful music and writing of The Go-Go’s together with the musical arrangements of Tom Kitt and Jeff Whitty,” Peppermint says. “They found the perfect combination of the music, the lyrics, the story, the book, the writing. It just serves the story so perfectly. It could’ve been a story about The Go-Go’s, which would’ve been very exciting, but probably something that people would have expected to see. To hear a song served up in a different way makes it new and fresh for people who are already Go-Go’s fans.”

Living the dream

“Head Over Heels” also deals with changing gender norms in an upbeat, positive way that is also bringing the show fans. “Pythio represents change and the theme that change is inevitable,” says Peppermint, who represents change herself. Though she studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and always had a love of Broadway, participating in it didn’t seem possible. “Being on Broadway at all, it’s a dream come true,” she says. “Actually, it’s more than a dream come true because, to be honest, I wasn’t even dreaming it.”

And though Peppermint is honored to break ground for trans actors, she wonders why it has taken this long. “It kind of highlights the lack of opportunity that trans women have had to face and continue to face in all fields,” she says. “Why can’t more trans folk be cast in shows? Or write shows? Or direct shows? Why can’t their stories be told? Why can’t there be more queer folk in general? It shouldn’t be so rare. I think this is a beginning of a lot of change.”

Peppermint gets to see that change firsthand by playing Pythio, who is described in the show as nonbinary, as a “they.” “It’s not the main draw for the story, but it’s something that is so key, and it resonates in such a strong way,” she says. “The fact that the word nonbinary is used out loud to describe a person’s gender identity. On stage. On Broadway. People come up to me after the show and disclose to me that they are nonbinary and that this show resonated with them so much. It’s just so special. I don’t happen to identify as nonbinary, but I know what it means to connect with a character that represents you. Seeing yourself onstage and in the media, it’s life-saving and it’s affirming.”

Peppermint laughs at the idea that being on Broadway will change her life, though. “Just me reacting to how fabulous my life has already been, I’ve already used up my last bit of surprise,” she says. “I’m perpetually surprised. I’m in a permanent state of shock — from the moment I was cast in this, from the moment I was cast in ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ — I couldn’t be any more grateful. I’m permanently grateful. I’m already satisfied.”

Ryan Shea, an entertainment journalist who has written about “Drag Race” and Peppermint for years for Instinct, says that for those who follow New York’s drag scene, “Peppermint’s been a big thing for years.”

“And she’s really one of the best queens to ever come out of that show,” the Huntington native adds. “A legend, quite frankly.”

Peppermint says her life did change after “Drag Race” and projects are already stacking up, including a tour she planned to do with rapper Cazwell to support their new EP, “Blend.”

“I was suddenly put on a much larger platform,” she says. “But I was able to do what I was always doing. I have always been traveling. I have always been an activist. I’ve always had the same ingredients. I’ve just been using them in a much larger venue. It’s not like I had to get used to something completely foreign or that I was thrown into a pool without knowing how to swim. It’s just like the ocean instead of a pool. I’ve always been a swimmer.”

That’s not to say that she doesn’t have bigger plans. “I would like to play Peppermint in ‘The Peppermint Story’ on Broadway,” she says, laughing. “That’s next on the list.”

WHAT “Head Over Heels”

WHEN  |  WHERE Opens Thursday. Shows are 7 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; and 3 p.m. Sundays; Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St., Manhattan

INFO $49 to $290; 855-801-5876,

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