The future of arts criticism may be a kindergartner from Arlington reviewing Stephen Sondheim musicals on YouTube.
Six-year-old Iain Armitage is the Internet’s latest (first?) theater critic to go viral. In just a bit more than two weeks, his two-minute rave of Signature Theatre’s production of “Sunday in the Park With George” has racked up more than 14,000 hits. Social media praise has come from the diverse likes of “Sunday” book writer James Lapine, gossip journalist Perez Hilton and singer Sara Bareilles, who tweeted, “Oh. My. God. I feel like roller skating through rainbows,” with a link to the video.
Not bad for a kid whose parents swear they weren’t looking to turn their son an Internet star.
“We were just doing this for friends and family,” said Lee Armitage, Iain’s mother, who has seven brothers and sisters scattered across the country. Iain’s father, Tony-nominated actor Euan Morton, hails from Scotland. They began posting videos of Iain in March, after taking him to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart perform “Waiting for Godot” on Broadway.
“Yes, I was the mother who took a 5-year-old to ‘Waiting for Godot,’ ” Armitage said. But through her own work as a producer, she knew McKellen and was able to get a seat that would allow her and Iain to make a hasty exit if necessary. Iain not only sat calmly through Beckett’s unnerving existential masterpiece, he was babbling backstage about how much he loved the play, so Armitage pulled out her iPhone and filmed him.
“Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian are both very good,” Iain pronounces in that video, looking dapper in a newsboy cap and bowtie. “Especially Sir Ian. Sir Ian is so, so good. You have to see this show. You just have to.” He steps forward and gestures toward the camera for emphasis as he speaks.
They’ve been filming Iain ever since. “Pippin” is his favorite show thus far, but his YouTube annals also include a rave review of “Les Miserables” and a scathing rant against his parents not letting him see the “inappropriate” musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Before taping, they talk through what Ian plans to say. He can’t read yet, so Armitage and Morton sometimes invent hand signals to remind him of certain points he wants to make.
“From [‘Godot’], we always did a review of every show,” Iain said. “I think about what was in the show that I really like. Most reviewers say, ‘This was a really good show, but I didn’t like this part’ or, ‘This part was kind of bad, but I liked this part.’ But I focus on the part that I do like, like, always.”
Iain’s reviews are all raves, because as Armitage admits, “He likes everything.” Coming from an amateur blogger, such positivism would be cause to cringe, but Iain’s enthusiasm is contagious. The family does try to uphold certain reviewing conventions, like not giving away endings, and they’ve decided not to mention if his father is in the show. That’s in the name of encouraging Iain to watch other performers, although most professional critics would deem that an ethical lapse. Of the just-closed, off-Broadway musical “Atomic,” which starred his father, Iain said. “The actors are really putting a lot of feeling to it, and they are really thinking about what they are doing.” He went on to compliment Ms. Sara, Mr. Randy, Mr. Jeremy and Euan Morton for doing “really good jobs.”
Morton and Armitage have been taking their son to the theater since 2011, when artistic director Eric Schaeffer offered them aisle seats to a dress rehearsal of “Hairspray.” Armitage worked with Schaeffer during those pre-Shirlington years when the theater was housed in an Arlington garage. She’s hasn’t been on the payroll since Iain was born, but named Schaeffer as his godfather. At the theater, house managers let Iain dart up the stairs to the balcony and bartenders offer him fruit garnishes on a stick. He sings a showtune every year in the Signature Idol contest, but has yet to make his stage debut. Instead, his parents keep him busy with lessons in Chinese, piano, figure skating and dance. At Adagio Ballet, he was one of just two boys who signed up for “Newsies” camp this summer and ended up performing solo at the recital. Which character in the musical did he chose to be?
“Jack,” Iain said. “Of course I wanted to be the lead.”
Ritzel is a freelance writer.