So begins Charlotte's Web.
What if in the musical version, which I'll write, the line becomes a refrain in the opening song. Characters step forward one at a time to tell us who they are and what they want, ending with, "Where's Papa going with that ax?"
We'd see and hear from Fern, the 8-year-old with the imagination; her principled but loving parents, the Arables; her weapon-toting older brother, Avery; Templeton, the amoral rat; sheep yearning for freedom; geese looking for something, anything, out of the ordinary; the doctor, Homer and Edith Zuckerman, the preacher and of course Charlotte herself--they all want to know where Papa's going with that ax.
The song ends with Papa putting down the ax, thanks to Fern, sparing the life of the runt pig for whom Fern comes up with "the most beautiful name she could think of": Wilbur.
And we've activated the world of the play.
Maybe, but tonight I saw 1917, a movie in which the first thing we see is a field of wildflowers. The camera pulls back and we get the characters. The characters get up and go.
Though gripped into the movie, for a moment I thought of opening Charlotte's Web, the musical, with nothing but sensations from the natural world the characters inhabit.