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In Musicals ...
The opening number defines the main character's motivation, kick-starts the plot, and communicates the spirit of the score and staging. It sets the tone for the whole show and starts the storytelling process by grabbing the audience’s attention.
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In Plays ...
The opening monologue of a play is the "set-up," a statement introducing us to the specifics of the plot, plus the tone of the story, and, shall we say, the Rules of the Evening. Of course, plays are pesky things being written about very special and interesting events, so we can expect these Rules of the Eveningto be broken fairly quickly.