Like many growing up before the age of DVDs, Jed Feder has a well-loved and worn copy of Aladdin on VHS.
(When was the last time you thought of those three letters?)
Now, he’s on stage in the national touring company of the Disney classic, performing as Kassim — a character fans of the movie may not recognize.
If you head to the Academy of Music for a performance of Aladdin between June 13 and July 1, don’t expect to see Abu, Aladdin’s sassy sidekick who happened to be a monkey. Instead, Aladdin is supported by his friends, including Kassim.
“If it were up to him, the show would be called Kassim,” Feder said of his character, which is a comedic role. “He’s got all his buddies’ best interests in mind, and he just knows that his ideas are probably the best ones.”
However, he noted, while his character and Aladdin’s friends may appear to be brand new characters to the audience, they were actually part of the original animated feature. They just didn’t quite make it.
“Our songs are not new songs, they’re just songs that were left on the cutting room floor, basically, of the original feature. So they fit in really well,” Feder said. “It’s always one extra step to explain to people who you’re playing, but it’s also kind of fun because nobody has any idea of what our characters should be so that’s a little freeing as well.”
Feder grew up in a Jewish home in Boulder, Colo., where he got his start performing as a kid and became more interested in theater in high school. A Northwestern University alum, he studied film and music composition, feeding his other passion: music. He’s spent the last few years in Chicago where he plays percussion and splits his time as a drummer and an actor, often as both, he said.
An audition for Aladdin in Chicago started his journey to Agrabah, following more auditions in New York and eventually leading to his debut performance in Denver, not far from home.
The Philadelphia stop will be his fourth city on the tour.
Of the musical, he said audiences should expect the unexpected.
“People looking for nostalgia of this film with which they grew up, they’re going to get that,” he noted, “but it’s also got a lot of additional songs and big Broadway dance numbers and really cool effects and things like that. It’s just a show about a guy who comes and takes himself from not a great situation and he finds something within him — it’s a hero’s journey that resonates with everyone.”
Though of course there are still the staples audiences will be looking for, such as “A Whole New World” and a big spectacle with the Genie’s “Friend Like Me,” which Feder said gets the audience on their feet every time.
“We call it a great date night musical because it’s really just a show for everyone,” he said.
It’s also flush with Jewish values that resonate for Feder.
He started the tour around Passover, he recalled, and likened his experience of packing up his apartment and setting out on a new experience to the message of “strangers in a strange land” in the Passover story.
“I’ve done lots of theater, but this is my first time doing a national tour like this, so it’s a big adjustment,” he said. “The Jewish value of that is the freedom that comes from what our ancestors have gone through and the gift and opportunity that this was as well, the ability to do that.”
Aladdin’s goal to make his parents proud in life also rings true in Judaism, he noted, with the mitzvah to honor your mother and father.
In the end, however, it’s a story whose message resonates across all denominations.
“Judaism informs such a moral compass that has become the moral compass of everyone,” Feder said. “People probably know he wants to set the Genie free for his wish but also whether he selfishly keeps that wish for himself or he sets him free and whether or not he treats others the way he’d like to be treated. And finding that balance of how he can serve others in order to serve oneself.
“Just like any good show, it demonstrates values in its protagonist and those all align with Jewish values.”
As this is his first national tour, he has enjoyed getting to bring the show to new cities and entertain new audiences each time.
“Just the role and the job itself are such an incredible blessing and it’s just a whole host of new experiences,” he said. “Obviously, when you do a show in one place you’re still getting new audiences, but there’s a whole separate wow factor of going to a whole new city that doesn’t know what to expect.”
As he hasn’t been to Philadelphia for a number of years, he’s looking forward to getting to explore the city during the three weeks Aladdin will be in town.
He encourages audiences to leave behind any preconceived notion of what the show will be about or who it’s for — as it’s not just for kids.
“A lot of people are going to come in for that nostalgia of that animated feature, which they’ll get; the songs are there. But our characters, we’re completely new to them, all of our songs are new to them, all of our antics are new to them,” he said. “There’s really a whole new world of material.”
For tickets, visit kimmelcenter.org