When Jed Feder and the rest of the cast of Disney’s “Aladdin” head into Pittsburgh next week, they will be accompanied by 32 semitrailer trucks hauling a whole new world of dazzling sets and special effects.
“Disney spares nothing when they mount a touring production of one of their shows,” explained Feder, who plays Aladdin’s pal, Kassim, in the show which opens at the Benedum Center on Aug. 22 and runs through Sept. 9. “It’s got all the spectacle that people will see in the New York production. It even has some effects that they don’t.”
This is the first national tour for Feder, a Chicago-based actor who grew up watching Disney’s film version of “Aladdin.” The stage adaptation is a bit different from the animated film, he said.
“I play Kassim, which is a role that is unfamiliar to people who haven’t seen the stage production,” he said. “I will say ‘unfamiliar’ but not ‘new,’ because basically Aladdin has these three street rat friends — Kassim, Omar and Babkak — who were all written for the original feature film, and then they basically got cut in the editing process. So, all of our numbers in the show were actually written for that movie, and cut, so they fit in really well.”
Because audiences are not familiar with Kassim, they don’t know what to expect from him, Feder said, which is part of the fun.
“Kassim is sort of the one who thinks he’s in charge,” Feder said. “My joke as Kassim is that when he’s walking around and sees all the ‘Aladdin’ posters, he says, ‘That’s weird, they spelled Kassim wrong.’”
Feder, who is also a guitarist and percussionist, grew up in a Jewish household in Boulder, Colo.
“I was born in New York, and we moved to Boulder when I was a baby; then we got followed out by my grandparents and a lot of my family moved out there,” he said. “I grew up with a strong Jewish identity, celebrating all the Jewish holidays.”
Feder has had a lifelong love of performing. His parents and sister are musicians and artists — although “not by trade,” he said; his father is a lawyer, his mother a social worker, and his sister, who recently moved back to Colorado, is a university professor. He credits his family with supporting his passion for the arts.
“I was encouraged by my parents to do whatever I wanted,” he said. “I really grew up as a musician. I was first a guitarist, and I’m also a percussionist; probably over half my career has been as a drummer.”
Feder also “did a lot of theater” as a child and teen but didn’t study the discipline when he got to Northwestern University for his undergraduate work.
“I didn’t actually plan to make theater my career,” he said. In fact, he entered college as a math and film major, eventually subbing out math for music composition. But when a professor needed someone who could act as well as play the drums for a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he tapped Feder for the role.
“That got the wheels back in motion, and here I am,” he said.
Since he graduated from Northwestern, his career has been dual-focused, as both an actor and a drummer, and he has his own band in Chicago called Late for Lunch.
“It’s a nice thing to be able to do a couple things, to keep a lot of balls in the air,” Feder said.
His stint in the touring company of “Aladdin” coincidentally began in Denver, allowing his family to be in the audience for his opening performance as Kassim back in April. At the time of his interview with the Chronicle, he was in Boston, and would be headed to Buffalo before his three-week stop in Pittsburgh.
Being on tour is “a whole different way of living,” Feder said. “It’s fun to get to travel, and a learning experience, and I visit places where I get to see people I haven’t seen in a while.”
While performing in Philadelphia, for example, he got to spend time with a friend with whom he worked as a counselor at the JCC Ranch Camp in Colorado.
While children familiar with the Disney film are sure to be charmed by the stage production, “Aladdin” is not just for kids, said Feder.
“We like to say it’s a great date night,” he said. “Obviously the kids will have fun, too, but in every way, it’s a big, Broadway spectacular. It’s got huge dance numbers, huge effects. It’s got a real adult love story. It’s fun for everyone. You definitely don’t need to bring a kid along to go and see it.” PJC