Last week, I was at my home away from Saratoga Springs in Alabama, visiting some friends and family for a few days. I made a lunch date with Mike Salerno, the creative writing teacher at my old community college, who’s, like me, a Skidmore College graduate. Over fresh Southern corn cakes, coleslaw and bread pudding, we caught up. He told me that his wife was currently in New York City, celebrating with an old friend making her Broadway debut. “Who’s her friend?” I asked. It turned out it was none other than Peppermint, who was not only the runner-up on the runaway hit series, RuPaul’s Drag Race, but also the first openly trans contestant to audition and get on the show (there have been others who came out as trans during or after filming). Now Peppermint’s making history again as the first trans actress to originate a principal role in a major show on Broadway. She’ll star in Head Over Heels, which opens at Hudson Theatre in NYC on July 26 (it’s been in previews since late June). Head Over Heels is a newish musical (it’s world premier was at the 2015 Oregon Shakespeare Festival) with a score that comprises 18 hits by The Go Go’s including “Get Up and Go,” “We Got the Beat,” “Vacation” and, of course the titular track, “Head Over Heels.” The cast features stars like Jeremy Kushnier (Paramour) and Rachel York (Disaster!), and the book is by Tony winner and writer of Avenue Q, Jeff Whitty. I talked to Peppermint about a number of things—including her historic role on Broadway—and her Saratoga connection.
I read somewhere that you’ve performed in Saratoga before. Is that true?
I have. I performed several times in the northern New York area, at different colleges—Skidmore being probably the closest to where you are. I can’t tell you the year, but it was in the early 2000s. It’s a fun place.
That was way before you were on Season 9 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Was it a big moment in 2017 when you were selected to compete in that show?
Yeah, it was a life changing moment for me. I got a chance to meet some great people and build a bigger platform than I’m used to. So it did change my life, for sure.
Do you think it helped get you your role in Head Over Heels?
I think it definitely did. But it wasn’t the prerequisite. It was a regular audition. I had to sing and dance just like everybody else. So it was a fair share. I’d like to say that Ru Paul’s Drag Race helped me get in the door, but my years of training for musical theater performance and the fact that I went to college for musical theater got me the role.
What’s it like preparing for your first Broadway show?
It’s a lot of emotions. A lot of hard work, a lot of memorization and a lot of Red Bull. [laughs] We’re basically rehearsing full time. Feels like 40 hours a week. So right now the process is you get up and rehearse all day and then at night you perform the shows to kind of test it out.
Can you tell me a little about the show? What’s your take on it?
It’s a great mash-up. It’s new and old. It’s pop and rock, and about love and sex and everything. It’s basically a hilarious comedy based on Arcadia [an Elizabethan prose work by Philip Sidney], and it’s all to the beat of The Go Go’s, which is fantastic.
Theater is usually seen as welcoming to the gay community—almost a safe space. Have you had a similar experience as a member of the trans community?
I think the theater is and always has been a kind of safe haven for queer folks. That’s where I grew up. That’s where I was able to find people that were different and not always part of the popular crowd. So yeah, I think theater in general provides that service for people. But the truth is there certainly is a lack of opportunities and roles that are open or built for trans people. Even for gay people, there’s a limited amount of roles on Broadway.
So what are you looking forward to, and what else are you planning?
Well, right now this is my full-time gig. Just Head Over Heels on Broadway. Broadway and Broadway only. [laughs] But I’ve done other things in the past, of course; I’ve toured and done music. Those are things I’m passionate about so I’m sure I’ll do them again. But right now I’m 100 percent focused on my big Broadway debut.