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New musical sends up startups in song

It's Uber for comedy.

Co-writer and director Lily Smith (left) with cast members Kate Oswald and Tom Wateracre rehearse NoseR: A Startup Musical.

Richard Trenholm/CNET

Have you heard about the hottest new startup on the scene? NoseR is disruptive, innovative, fully funded -- and entirely fictional.

The made-up startup is at the heart of NoseR: A Startup Musical, a new comedic play that parodies life in the tech bubble. It's bursting with buzzwords, stuffed with synergy and ready to disrupt your theatre-going experience with an entire funding round of catchy songs played, naturally, by a band called Steve and the Jobs.

Coming to the London stage this month, the agile musical focuses on a fictional app that sends synthesised smells to people's phones. Or, as the company's mission statement puts it in one of the songs, "Give every phone a nose". 

To find out more, I joined the cast for rehearsals under the watchful eye of co-writer and director Lily Smith. Rehearsals are taking place in the London office of -- where else -- a startup. So the performers practice their entrances and exit strategies in an artsy space decorated with a combination of super-serious business plans and wacky, colourful reclaimed furniture. Somewhere in the building is a sauna that's never been used.

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"In this day and age we need businesses to be as innovative and limitless as possible," says Smith with an obvious fondness for the startup world. "Startup industry and culture is where people like that tend to gravitate towards, and that's exciting."

With their cringeworthy buzzwords, grandiose claims and often ridiculously un-self-aware behaviour, startups are ripe for parody. Founder's foibles and entrepreneur's eccentricities are spoofed in the likes of sitcom Silicon Valley, the novel Startup by Doree Shafrir and countless YouTube sendups. Having worked for several years in London's Silicon Roundabout neighbourhood -- named after an intersection on hipster hub Old Street -- Smith sniffed out the funny side of the industry. 

"Often idealism comes with... not a lack of self-awareness but a sincerity that is very easy to laugh at. Kindly. But also laugh at," she says.

NoseR was conceived when Smith and musical director Luke Leighfield met while working for startup Wonderbly, which publishes customised children's books such as Lost My Name and Roald Dahl's My Golden Ticket. To create the play, Leighfield's musical background combined with Smith's skills as a director of comedy webseries and shorts.

Smith describes the music as "big power pop with lots of heart". No prizes for guessing what three-piece band Steve and the Jobs' stage outfits look like.

NoseR: A Startup Musical will be playing from 6 to 9 of August at the Hen & Chickens Theatre in Highbury and Islington, a part of Camden Fringe. Tickets cost £8 ($10.50). If the show sniffs the sweet smell of success, Smith and Leighfield plan to pivot to the Edinburgh festival next year.

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