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Silicon Valley stereotypes meet musical in 'South of Market'

The newly revised show sings and dances its way through the more absurd corners of Silicon Valley, where everything is self-driving, even data sets.

Anna Gravilov

Poor Alex. The young TechFeed journalist at the heart of "South of Market: The Musical v2" wants to write serious stories that hold companies accountable for ignoring diversity and neglecting product safety hazards. But listicles like "Top 10 Colleges for Aspiring Founders to Drop Out Of" and "13 Ways Alexa Was a Basic Bitch" always get more traffic than "boring" articles on equal pay.  

"Count me out of page views," the idealistic Alex declares early in the 90-minute show. "Going rogue!" 

Parodies of the tech world aren't new, of course -- see HBO's "Silicon Valley" as the best-known example. But this one's done through song and tap dance. As the cast croons about venture capitalists and billion-dollar valuations, you half expect Erlich Bachman to pop up with jazz hands.

The show, which runs through Oct. 22 at San Francisco's Marines Memorial Theater, romps through a world of nap pods, treadmill desks, "robust self-driving data sets" and launch parties with robot strippers but no actual product to show off yet. The play follows Alex (Alex Akin stands out in the role) as she investigates hot startup ai.ai, which represents "the dawning of the great singularity, the great singularity" (sung, amusingly, to the tune of "Aquarius" from the musical "Hair"). Along the way, she may have found love, or at least a nice bearded guy to hang out with.  

James Seifert (left) and Will Letzler play ai.ai executives in "South of Market: The Musical v2."

Anna Gravilov

The show is now in its second year, with all new topical material. Anyone with internet access will recognize tropes like incessant selfie-taking and hashtagging. Tech professionals will also appreciate the jargon, acronyms and send-ups of oversize Silicon Valley egos.

"Believe in yourself," the cast sings in the finale, "but not too much."  

The show does hint at weightier themes, like some companies paying lip service, but not much more, to equal pay. Then there's the song "All the Feelings," which runs through the pat Facebook reactions available in a complex world of political turmoil and natural disasters: "like, love, haha, wow, sad, angry," the chorus goes.

"Part of the premise of that song is that these six reactions … are supposed to be sufficient to interact with the news we're seeing about the world today," says Tareq Abuissa, who wrote the music and lyrics. "There's irony there that they can't actually capture what we're observing."

A number of the show's team members have backgrounds in tech or media. Samantha O'Keefe, co-producer with Pat Blute, is head of startup programs at Google Cloud, and Wall Street Journal reporter Rolfe Winkler, who covers startups, plays the clicks-obsessed millennial TechFeed editor who represents everything Alex despises. But the team also sought input beyond its ranks.   

"We went outside of our own team, running lines or scenes by individuals in the community and getting their feedback, both for their reaction and also for authenticity," O'Keefe says.

South of Market, to those who don't hang around San Francisco, refers to an area of the city known for its abundance of startups. I'm writing this from SoMA right now, though not from a sensory-deprivation-desk tank like some of those lucky TechFeed reporters have.

If you're not anywhere near SoMA and can't catch the show, the team is having it filmed and says it will be available for streaming.

Now, back to my story on 10 ways the internet uses cat videos to steal your identity. (You won't believe No. 7!)   

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