An Ashland High School student was cast in the first amateur production of "Hairspray" for the 2008 International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Neb.

, 18, auditioned with 400 other high school students vying for a chance to participate in the production. Only 48 students from 18 states were selected.

"Hairspray," which deals with racial segregation, teen romance, big girls and even bigger hair in 1962 Baltimore, first became popular after the 1988 John Waters film. It was adapted into a Broadway musical production in 2002, winning eight Tony awards. Hairspray was re-released in 2007 as a film adaptation of the stage version, starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and Queen Latifah.

Houghton plays Harriman F. Spritzer who owns the hairspray company that sponsors "The Corny Collins Show."

"He's the guy who fires Michelle Pfeiffer at the end of the latest movie," he said. "I also play the flasher, high school principal and do a voice over as a radio announcer. It's really a fun show."

"Music Man Jr.," an Ashland Middle School production, was Houghton's first taste of the stage, but it wasn't until his junior year is that he started getting serious about an acting career.

He played Seymour in AHS's fall production of "Little Shop of Horrors," had roles in Rogue Ballet's "The Nutcracker" and won several regional and state competitions.

Houghton said the partnership between AHS and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a lot to do with his decision to seek a career in acting.

"To be surrounded by that caliber of theater has motivated me to go into that area," he said, adding that learning from OSF actors who teach master classes at the high school has taught him to be a well-rounded actor.

Chris Williams, a freelance actor in Ashland, was an OSF actor when he directed the high school's "Little Shop of Horrors" production.

She said she's not at all surprised that Houghton was cast in "Hairspray."

"He was just genius at the Seymour part," said Williams. "His creativity as an actor was boundless and he always had new ideas that fit the character and context of the show. Josh has great comic timing for someone so young. And that is something that can't be taught. He's a truly a gifted actor and clearly other people see it as well."

His drama instructor at Ashland High School, Betsy Bishop, describes Houghton as prepared, focused and ambitious.

"He got the 'Hairspray' part all on his own," she said. "He's a researcher and understands that as an actor, you have to get out there and find your own auditions."

Bishop, who has taught theater for 32 years, said, "In over 150 productions working with high school actors, I believe he is in my top one percent as a disciplined, hard-working actor who has shown the most growth over the last four years."

The part

Houghton said he met a man who was in last year's International Thespian Festival who encouraged him to send an audition tape.

"Late last spring I got a call back," he said. "Then I had to go to the festival in Nebraska last summer to take part in the three-day audition. I got a call back again on the second day and then learned I got the part."

Houghton said his first rehearsal happens during spring break, when all the cast and crew will be flown to the University of Northern Colorado, where director Vance Fulkerson teaches. The second rehearsal will be in mid-May and the final, 10-day rehearsal, takes place a few days after he graduates from high school.

The musical, presented by Music Theatre International and the Educational Theatre Association, opens June 23.

Houghton, who has just finished a round of six college auditions, said, "This opportunity has been a good catalyst for conversations at the auditions."

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