In the new musical Head Over Heels, the oracle Pythio utilizes a Go-Go’s tune to deliver a portentous prophecy, but not before declaring, “Pythio is a non-binary plural.” The viceroy Dametas, despite existing in an Elizabethan fantasy, immediately follows: “Neither he nor she, but…they. Pythio the Oracle is they.”
“To be honest, it goes a lot smoother in the play than I’ve experienced,” admits Peppermint, the trans drag performer who plays Pythio, laughing. That unassuming acceptance, presented in a theatrical and fantastical context, drew Peppermint to the project—a Michael Mayer–directed reworking of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia utilizing the songs of ’80s superstars The Go-Go’s. “To people who might be new to these issues, it’s served in a loving way that people can easily understand. On the other hand, it shows people who identify as non-binary, gender non-conforming, or trans: Look at what the possibilities are.”
As the story of a royal family searching for a suitor for their daughter, the contemporary explorations of gender—as well as portrayals of same-sex relationships—are integrated into a 16th-century plot rife with dramatic irony, comical courtship, and mistaken identity.
When the show officially opens at the Hudson Theatre July 26 (previews begin June 23), Peppermint will become the first woman who openly identifies as trans to originate a principal role on Broadway. Perhaps it’s a wordy distinction, but Peppermint does not take it lightly and recognizes there may be previous artists who identified as trans.
Peppermint opens that door in the theatre community after breaking similar ground in the drag world, becoming the first drag queen to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race as an openly trans woman (others have come out as trans while on the show or after). She placed as runner-up in Season 9, though she had become a fixture of the New York nightlife scene before the series gave a national platform to drag performers. Her presence on the series has helped spur conversations that challenge the queer community to view drag as an artistic expression and blurring of gender not exclusive to cisgender men.
The Peppermint persona was Agnes Moore’s first outlet to express her gender identity. Now, the name appears in Broadway billing. “Peppermint has served me very well over the years. I wanted to give something back to the drag persona—and to show people that this drag queen can be successful in other realms outside of nightlife,” she explains. “I still have a private life, but publicly, I’ll always be known as Peppermint. It’s my rock ‘n’ roll name.”
Through her performance, Peppermint will introduce audiences to new perceptions of gender and spread a tale of tolerance. Broadway may be new territory, but that responsibility is not: “As drag performers and trans women, it’s in our bloodline—our drag ancestry—to march on the front lines. Drag Race allowed me to connect with folks who my story resonated with—people I never would have had the opportunity to connect with.
“I’m hoping that will happen with this Broadway platform as well. I can already see that happening.”