Dana Saleh Omar and Matt Mueller in "Once" at Writers Theatre.

Bringing a popular film to the stage can be a tricky business, but John Carney’s 2007 Dublin musical “Once” made the transition to Broadway beautifully in 2012, thanks to the sensitive book by Enda Walsh and haunting folk music by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Their song “Falling Slowly” won an Academy Award and the show picked up eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Since then, it has been staged all over the world, and the current chamber musical version at Writers Theatre in Glencoe deserves high marks for innovation and for suiting the intimacy of the Nichols Theatre perfectly. Director and choreographer Katie Spelman has done away with the traditional Irish pub setting and instead keeps the actors, who play their own instruments, in a swirl of motion, facilitating the smooth change of scenes with simple props like a table and chairs plus an upright piano (on wheels). When they're not actively performing, the ensemble members stand around or sit on said chairs watching each other.

Spelman solves simple problems with story-theater creativity. In one scene, the leads stand on scenic designer Joonhee Park's benches to simulate a hill overlooking lighting designer Yael Lubetsky's tiny white lights meant to represent Dublin in the distance. Gregory Graham's costumes mostly conjure up scruffy hippiedom with whimsical touches, among them piano-key suspenders and a sharkskin suit.

Credit goes to music director Matt Deitchman, who also plays Eamon, and to

sound designers Christopher M. LaPorte and Sarah Ramos for how good the show sounds, from the instrumental “The North Strand” at the beginning to the a cappella version of “Gold” and the reprise of “Falling Slowly” at the end. (Be sure to arrive early for the pre-show medley of Irish (and other) folk songs by the cast.)

In truth, the plot of “Once” is pretty conventional, but the themes of love, loss, heartbreak, rejuvenation and the joys of music seem to strike a chord with everyone, and Walsh's book is leavened with lots of humor. Much of it comes from Girl (Dana Saleh Omar), the Czech émigré, who brings — or, more accurately, badgers — Guy (Matt Mueller) back to emotional life. Her dry one-liners always emerge from the situation, for instance, when she's asked if she's serious about something and retorts, “I'm always serious. I'm Czech.”

Girl and Guy meet after he sings “Leave” about his recent breakup with a girlfriend who has moved to New York, then leaves his guitar on the ground intending to give up music and stick to repairing Hoovers and living above his da's vacuum cleaner shop. Omar's Girl, a force of nature, coaxes Mueller's sad-sack Guy to pick up his guitar, telling him his music will win back his girlfriend. She also happens to have a vacuum with her that needs to be repaired, and offers to trade that service for playing Guy her music on a piano at a nearby shop.

Both Guy and Girl are “stopped” — he by his breakup, she by a failing marriage — and as their friendship develops through making music, she prompts them to put together a band and make a demo. They fall in love, but despite the romantic tension, the relationship isn't consummated and comes instead to a sweet but sad semi-conclusion.

Along the way, we meet Billy (Matt Edmonds), the irascible owner of the music shop where Girl plays piano; the Bank Manager (Yuchi Chiu) to whom Girl and Guy appeal to borrow money to make the demo and who convinces them to let him join the band (on cello); Girl's daughter Ivonka (Kajsa Allen alternating with Viva Boresi); her loving mother Baruska (Bethany Thomas), and her three roommates: Reza (Elisa Carlson), Svec (Lucas Looch Johnson) and Andrej (Liam Oh). There's also Guy's always supportive da (Ron E. Rains), who is still grieving the loss of his wife, and the ex-girlfriend (Elleon Dobias), who puts in a brief appearance near the end and seems willing to take him back).

The chemistry between Guy and Girl is a bit lacking in Writers Theatre's “Once,” but Omar's Girl is so compelling, she more than compensates. The show closes soon but is well worth the trip to Glencoe.

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