Artists at work

Seeing the Broadway musical “Once” made Evan Harrington want to be a better guitar player.

“I saw the show shortly after it opened and absolutely fell in love it,” Harrington said during a telephone interview from Philadelphia. “I had been playing guitar on and off, trying to get better and better. There was a role I had my eye on, and I really wanted to do it. I knew it would be a ton of fun to be up there playing music with those people night after night.”

Harrington got his wish and is part of the ensemble cast for the first national tour of a show that won eight 2012 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It opens Tuesday for a two-week run in Cleveland, only the fourth city on the tour.

The Rochester, N.Y., native has lived in New York City for 13 years. He made his Broadway debut in “Avenue Q,” replacing the original Brian, one of the few non-puppet characters in the Tony Award-winning show. And he spent three-and-a-half years playing temperamental tenor Ubaldo Piangi in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”

”Once” is a very different musical compared to those shows. It is based on a low-budget Irish film that won the audience award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Falling Slowly.”

Even with several songs, the quiet indie film was not an obvious choice for a Broadway adaptation, and the creative team preserved its quirky, low-key charms in the transition to the stage.

The actors also are the musicians, trading off on instruments and percussion as they tell the story of a man and woman, known simply as “Guy” and “Girl,” who are brought together through their mutual love of music. He is a busker who pays the bills working in his father’s vacuum repair shop, and she is a pianist who sells flowers to support her family.

”I like to say it’s a story of how music can bring people together and how music is important to everyone,” Harrington said. “It’s an honest, true story about music and love. It sounds corny, but it’s true.”

The style of the musical meant the preparation for the show was different from a traditional Broadway tour.

”The first three hours of every day was spent playing music with each other, just learning how to be a band,” he said. “We were all listening and learning to really be a part of this thing.”

In addition to playing guitar, Harrington said he’s learned to play a little ukulele and mandolin in the show.

One unique element from the Broadway production that has been preserved for the tour is a chance for the audience to get an up-close look at the cast and the set. The set for the musical is an Irish pub, and in this case, it’s a working bar. The audience can come up on stage before the show and order a beer, and audience members are allowed to stay on stage when the actors first come out for a short jam session before being ushered off as the production starts.

“When people do get up there, they get excited, and the show just melts into it,” Harrington said. “It’s such a brilliant concept.”