L-R: Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Denise Van Outen, Graham Norton, Andrew Lloyd Webber, John Barrowman
By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
"Let's get this out of the way," announces Graham Norton at the launch of the BBC's latest West End talent search.
"The show is called I'd Do Anything, it's hosted by me, and we're looking for a brilliant Nancy.
"Laugh it out. Get used to it. We're bored of the jokes already."
After solving a problem like Maria and fitting Lee Mead with a technicolor dreamcoat, the Saturday night show is looking for four actors to star in Lionel Bart's classic musical Oliver!
The successful Olivers will rotate in the lead role
Viewers will get to choose the actress who plays bawdy but lovable Nancy, while the panel of judges - chaired by Andrew Lloyd Webber - will pick three boys to share the title role of Oliver Twist.
"The big battle is about who is going to steal the show," admits Norton, who adds: "My money is on the Olivers.
"When they walk on, all across the country thousands of ovaries will be popping.
"People who thought they'd given up on having kids will say: 'Shall we try again? We might have one of them!'"
More than 10,000 people auditioned for this year's show - the highest number yet.
Norton says the show is a "celebration of excellence"
According to producers, more than ever before were paid-up members of acting union Equity, prompting some criticism that amateur performers were at a disadvantage.
But Elaine Bedell, who commissioned I'd Do Anything for the BBC, doesn't think there is a problem.
"Even if you have an Equity card, it doesn't mean you get to see Andrew Lloyd Webber for an audition," she says.
"And in the end, if the public decide the 'professional' beats the 'non-professional', that's their choice."
Norton adds that this year's show is likely to favour "raw talent", as the character of Nancy is supposed to be a diamond in the rough.
Played by Shani Wallis in the 1968 film, East End girl Nancy acts as a surrogate mother to Oliver and the other pick-pocketing street urchins.
She gets some of the musical's biggest and most memorable numbers, including As Long As He Needs Me and It's A Fine Life.
Lord Lloyd-Webber has said he wants to find a singer with a sultry, soulful voice - "an even younger Amy Winehouse" - for the role.
"You want someone with a bit of life experience," laughs Norton, "but I don't think he actually wants Amy Winehouse to show up.
"I hope she doesn't get confused. Suddenly she's wandering across the studio with a box of KFC!"
A Sir, a Lord and a Dame
In addition to returning judges Lord Lloyd-Webber, Denise Van Outen and John Barrowman, this year's series will feature theatre impresario Sir Cameron Mackintosh and comedian Barry Humphries - better known as Dame Edna Everage.
While his presence may seem odd at first, Humphries took part in the original 1960 stage production of Oliver! creating the role of undertaker Mr Sowerberry, and later playing criminal mastermind Fagin at the London Palladium.
Sir Cameron, who owns the rights to Oliver!, was approached after Lord Lloyd-Webber suggested it as the subject of the show - other candidates included the Wizard of Oz and My Fair Lady.
Bedell says the millionaire producer has been "completely seduced by the whole television process", even though he was initially reluctant to take an on-screen role.
"I think he's sorry about that, frankly," quips Norton.
The competition for a place in the live show was fierce
"He's been all over it like a rash. I wouldn't be surprised to seem him in the studio in a sleeping bag!"
The first episode of I'd Do Anything on Saturday showcases the best and worst auditions.
But, in reality, the final 12 contestants were chosen at "Nancy School" earlier this week.
"Even I was in tears," says Norton, who notes a distinct lack of back-stabbing behind the scenes.
But that could all change when the when the elimination rounds begin in two weeks.
Norton says he was initially worried that the female competitors would be less weepy than last year's histrionic Any Dream Will Do contenders - but his fears proved to be unfounded.
"Last year it was boy snot, this year it's mascara," he chuckles.
"I'm covered in it by the end of the show."
I'd Do Anything starts on BBC One on Saturday 15 March.