Frumi Cohen answers a question from Sofia Ridge during rehearsal for “The Magic Flute: ReLoaded” as Marisa Block takes notes. (Photo courtesy of PMFS)

by Genevieve Schmidt Camacho

Frumi Cohen is a champion of unlikely heroes. For over 30 years, she has brought them to the stage at Plymouth Meeting Friends School (PMFS) as the writer and director of the yearly 6th grade musical. Her protagonists, frequently drawn from familiar children’s literature, encounter challenges which force them to draw on their inner strengths and talents, as well as rely on those around them.

Ultimately rising above the issues, these characters become heroes almost without realizing it. Usually without  the typical happy ending, Cohen’s musicals are about character, pluck and finding a way to succeed without compromising one’s self.

“Frumi’s plays have another layer of meaning that is accessed by the adults in the audience, giving us a chance to reflect on and witness our children’s growth, both in the portrayal of their characters and in their maturity as members of our school community,” said Head of School and PMFS parent Sarah Sweeney-Denham.

This year, the students are preparing an adapted version of Cohen’s “The Magic Flute: ReLoaded,” a rap musical based on Mozart’s opera. In this version, Merton Mercudio is suspended from school for fighting, and is sent to the land of Droon.

The audience soon discovers that this whimsical place is the world of Merton’s own conscience and imagination. During his travels, Merton meets King Meltdown, who teaches him about anger management, a princess held prisoner by her mother, Lady NotsoFast, as well as a grindylow named Grumbo. All of these encounters lead to Merton’s own understanding of a valuable life lesson.

Mercudio’s journey of self discovery mirrors the process faced by Cohen’s students in putting the musical together. Sixth graders learn to stretch themselves within the roles that they have been assigned, and the significance of being in the cast. Student talents are recognized by the group, and hold an equal value. They all learn that each role is vital to the production, and each has an important part in telling the whole story.

“Sixth graders need the opportunity to soar, but they also need to know that they have soared, which are two different things,” said Cohen, who also teaches music and drama at PMFS. “The process of making the musical allows them to do that.”

This learning process also parallels their own arc of experience as students at PMFS. Throughout their years together, the sixth graders have grown in their understanding of the value of their own classroom community. In their final months before graduating from Plymouth Meeting Friends School, the class comes together in this culminating experience to perform and celebrate their accomplishments.

The students create something larger than themselves that reflects the power of what they have learned, that they each have something unique to offer each other and the world. Poised to become the heroes of their own adventures, they also understand that without every voice, there can be no chorus.

“The Magic Flute: ReLoaded” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, May 10-11, in the Plymouth Meeting Friends School Steinbright Auditorium, 2150 Butler Pike, Plymouth Meeting. More information at pmfs@pmfs1780.org or 610-828-2288.