Last Saturday night, the North Carolina Theatre’s high-octane production of Chess really rocked Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and an appreciative opening-night audience who frequently interrupted the musical numbers with cheers and rose as one at the final curtain to give Chess a raucous standing ovation. Earning the lion’s share of the applause were Carrie Johnson, Ray Walker, and Aaron Ramey.

NCT veteran Ray Walker is a regular preening, screaming rock star as flamboyant and temperamental American challenger Frederick Trumper; Carrie Johnson makes the most of every moment of her NCT debut, while giving a crowd-pleasing performance as Trumper’s long-suffering girlfriend and chess second Florence Vassey; and Aaron Ramey adds a charismatic characterization in his first NCT role as handsome Russian World Chess Champion Anatoly Sergievsky, to whom Florence turns after Freddie publicly tongue-lashes her once too often. Together or separately Messrs. Walker and Ramey and Miss Johnson make beautiful music together. Joan Almedilla is likewise lovely to look at and listen in her poignant portrayal of Sergievsky’s estranged wife Svetlana.

James Zannelli is appropriately ominous as Sergievsky’s Machiavellian second and not-so-covert KGB operative Molokov, Josh Tower is a pip as the styling and profiling egomaniacal Arbiter of the championship series, and Evan Lubeck is suitably oily as Trumper’s obnoxious business associate and probable CIA agent Walter.

Director Casey Hushion provocatively stages Chess, with great style and wit, on a brilliantly conceived chessboard set designed by Bill Yates, Jr. for High Output; and choreographer Josh Rhodes’ dynamic dance steps incorporate chess moves as the dancers stalk the chessboard stage. The colorful costumes created by Costume World Theatrical and supplemented by NCT resident costume designer Ann M. Bruskiewitz and the hard-rocking instrumental accompaniment by the NCT orchestra conducted by musical director Edward G. Robinson also help make Chess a must-see musical, even if not all the lyrics are intelligible. Even with the latest-and-greatest body mics, sound designer Jonathan Parke has a real challenge making the vocals heard distinctly over the hot licks of the accompanists.

The North Carolina Theatre presents Chess Tuesday-Friday, July 17-20, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 21, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 22, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $25-$75, except 20 percent off ticket prices for a Family Four Pack (call Donna Mullins at 919/831-6944, ext. 6944). North Carolina Theatre Box Office: 919/831-6950.Group Rates (for groups of 10+): 919/831-6944, ext. 6944. Note: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, NC ( will audio describe the 2 p.m. July 21st performance. North Carolina Theatre: [inactive 3/08]. Chess: [inactive 2/08]. Internet Broadway Database: Internet Movie Database (New Zealand, 1992 film): Casey Hushion: (Internet Broadway Database). Ray Walker: (IMDB). Aaron Ramey: (IMDB). Joan Almedilla: (IMDB).