Born in New York, Ross Baum (he/him/his) grew up watching Broadway shows and quickly fell in love with community theatre and performing. His love for theatre led him to completing a BFA in Musical Theatre at Syracuse University and later an MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from New York University (NYU). It was at NYU that Ross met Angelica Chéri (both pictured above) and started working on a thesis project that six years later in early 2020 would premiere as the musical Gun & Powder at the Washington DC area’s Tony-award winning Signature Theatre.
Gun & Powder, for which Ross co-created and composed the music for, “is the story of Angelica’s great-great-aunts who [are African American but] passed as white and legend has it they were outlaws in Texas.” Directed by Robert O’Hara (Slave Play), Gun & Powder stars Hamilton-alum Emmy Raver-Lampman and Solea Pfeiffer in the lead roles.
“It felt timely in 2014 with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. We told ourselves we needed to make the show happen. The moment is now. And the topics of race in the show just keep getting more relevant with each year, which has fueled the urgency of the piece but is also problematic in a societal sense.” Ross also recalls having many conversations with the two leads on the representation in this show and how they often are playing either Black characters or white characters on stage, and rarely get the opportunity to play mixed-race characters authentic to their own experience as they do in Gun & Powder.
The process to getting the production to open at the Signature Theatre was long. “We applied for a development program and were lucky enough to get selected out of 170 submissions. We were brought down for a two-week workshop and made a connection with the Signature Theatre. They eventually offered us a production slot for their 30th anniversary season. We were so grateful they would take a chance on us and our story and subject matter.”
Is there a future for Gun & Powder? “Definitely! We have the producers on board and pretty much all of the creative team is the same. We plan to have a lab in the fall and the goal is to bring it to Broadway next spring, fingers crossed!”
Ross is also a founder of the music collective RANGE, which you may recognize from their viral YouTube videos “Hamilton in 7 Minutes” and “Six in 6 Minutes”. “RANGE has been an amazing creative outlet. We started it in 2014. A group of us had done a cappella in college and we all found ourselves here in the city. We started making music and videos and doing gigs and our productions got bigger and better and now it’s morphed in a ‘music collective’ because we are branching out and working on other things outside of a cappella.” One of the highlights so far? Ross fondly remembers staying up all night with co-founder Ben Holtzman arranging music for RANGE to perform on the red carpet at the Oscars in 2015.
Ross is also writing a new musical, Escapeland, with Charlie Oh. “It’s a dark comedy about the backstage lives of theme park character performers. We just finished a first draft that we have been writing on and off for about three or four years. The score combines nostalgic animated movie musical and theme park tunes with more pop elements. But it’s very character driven. It’s still in the early stages so it’s hard to describe and put it into words, but it’s all about fun characters in twisted situations as we explore what it means to be truly happy.” Ross hopes that we will be seeing it on stage in the next few years.
What has Ross been up to during COVID? He started teaching through Syracuse University and privately, about 20 students a week. Outside of that, he has been writing and producing pop music. “I’m working on an EP that will come out in early summer.”
What’s been on Ross’ mind over the past year? “If this has taught me anything, it’s how important the arts are to our existence as humans. We should just do whatever we can to support and rebuild our industry and keep listening and keep seeing things and keep being creative. That’s the only way I know how to keep going.”
Stay connected @bossraum on Instagram.