It's never too early for dot-com nostalgia

"Goin' Dot Com!" is a musical devoted to lampooning and celebrating the joys and horrors of the Internet boom, and it's funnier than it has any right to be.

Published August 22, 2003 7:30PM (EDT)

Don't worry about turning your cellphone off before the show begins, an actor in "Goin' Dot Com! -- The Musical" advises the audience: "If you've got them, turn them on!"

Any intermittent ringing that might explode from the audience at San Francisco's Eureka Theater, which is packed with dot-com refugees assembled to drink Red Bull and Redtail Ale and laugh at themselves, can only help bring back all the joy and glory of the wonder years.

To the kitschy annals of dot-com nostalgia, add the endearing farce of, a saga that starts and ends at Starbucks, with $50 million vanishing in between. Consultants, V.C.s, investment bankers and the dot-commers themselves are chewed up and sung out in a giddy production, the kind of show where "Norton anti-virus" is earnestly invoked in a lovers' duet.

Many songs are parodies, most memorably "Click Farm Wizard," based on the Who's "Pinball Wizard," a heroic tribute to the mouse fingers of a very talented Third World orphan, laboring at a click-thru sweatshop, where he clicks on ad banners to simulate actual commerce on the company's Web site to fool their advertisers. There's also a musical lesson in buzzwords -- "If I don't know what to say, I say: Let's take it offline!" -- featuring Mr. Buzzword, a pimp daddy robed in a full-length white fur coat and with flames on the sides of his shoes, sung to the "Schoolhouse Rock" tune of "Conjunction Junction." What's your function?

The dubious enterprise at the center of the show is Rental Puppy, which plans to use the Web to rent puppies to men who don't have the brains, luck, charm or bucks to meet women any other way. Puppies: a surefire chick magnet, but who wants to keep the needy thing around until it grows up into a lumbering dog? "Your brand is the promise of love's potential!" lectures a black-clad consultant from Envisio. (This same consultant returns later, as a representative of a concern called Trans-visio, to fire everyone when the stock drops to 30 cents a share.)

The brand remains a promise, because before the start-up acquires a single puppy, much less a customer, it balloons into a portal play to attract the coveted single, male demographic with a launch party -- "Let's rent out Napa!" -- featuring an open bar and Neil Diamond.

Launch party conversation: "Hi, where are you from? An upper-middle class suburban community. Wow! What a coincidence. Me too!" (Most lines in the show are delivered as exclamations. It was an exciting time!)

Based in a SOMA loft with all the necessary office distractions, like foosball, air hockey, cellphones ringing to the tune of "Baby Got Back," Rental Puppy, as a company, seems to be mostly about office workers IM-ing their friends all morning before going out for a high-tech burrito, while they wait to vest. "I'm vesting. I'm vesting. Just four more years, then I'll be resting."

"Goin' Dot Com!" displays a kind of tenderness for a time when guys too dumb to find the sunglasses resting on their own forehead could carry fancy business cards in the shape of a puppy with the letters V.P. on them.

The real villain here isn't the hapless dot-commers themselves, whose main crime is just getting caught up in it all -- and, hey, who wasn't? -- but rather a nefarious investment banker from Stevenson Roberts, whose sterling credentials include sitting on the board of Enron and WorldCom, and the V.C.s so sexist that they have to have everything a woman says repeated to them by a man so that they can hear it.

It's hard to parody an era so excessive that it turned a sock puppet into a cultural icon, but "Goin' Dotcom!" goes after it with all the boldness of a mixed metaphor: "IPO. What it is, I still don't know?" is answered with a bright chorus of: "It's the yellow brick road to the dot-com Super Bowl!"

This original show has the polish and production values of something lodged between a campfire singalong and a high school for the performing arts production of "Sweeney Todd," but the audience, which is stocked with former co-workers of the actors as well as some of their parents, was highly receptive.

I, for one, had a much better time spending an evening watching the goofy musical theater stylings of these chipper can-do types than I did at most of the open-bar, free-sushi, what-company-is-this-anyway? launch parties we attended together a few years ago.

The final number: "Hey Dot-com (Where Have You Gone?)" thanks the boom for giving us two really useful things -- anonymous porn and craigslist -- while concluding, brightly: "Thought we'd be rich, but we were wrong." Shrug.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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