After two-and-a-half months, Jodie Prenger (pictured), a 28-year-old agony aunt and cabaret singer from Blackpool, was voted by the public as the victor of the BBC One reality TV casting programme I’d Do Anything to take the role of Nancy in Cameron Mackintosh’s upcoming West End revival of Oliver!.

On Saturday’s live final, Prenger triumphed over runner-up Jessie Buckley and, voted off earlier in the evening, second runner-up Samantha Barks. In the final head-to-head, Prenger and Buckley split the judges’ opinions with Andrew Lloyd Webber, producer Mackintosh and Barry Humphries naming Buckley as their Nancy, and John Barrowman and Denise Van Outen saying they were torn between the two.

But it was the public who had the casting vote. When Prenger was named the winner, Lloyd Webber commented: “She’s the people’s choice. I think people love her, they love her open personality. I think they relate to that personality and I think that's what makes her Nancy for the public… Her strengths are her personality and her very, very strong voice."

Mackintosh, who reportedly expressed doubts about Prenger being too “big” for the role (See The Goss, 30 May 2008), said on Saturday: "I'm thrilled for Jodie. She is obviously the public's view of what they want to see as Nancy. She'll give a terrific performance and I really look forward to putting her into training and getting her into rehearsals."

He went on to say that Prenger is “an exceptional talent with a fabulous voice and an unusually warm woman – smart, thoughtful and extremely motivated. She will go from strength to strength and be a terrific success in the role of a lifetime when the show opens in January.”

Prenger thanked the public for its confidence in her. "You have genuinely given me my dream, I can't actually put into words how I feel,” she said. "I'm so grateful and so chuffed. I'm just Jodie from Blackpool and to be here is my dream."

Oliver! opens on 14 January 2009 (previews from 12 December 2008) at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane (See News, 26 Mar 2008). Prenger will appear alongside Rowan Atkinson as Fagin and, alternating in the title role, Gwion Jones, 11 years old, from Carmarthenshire; Harry Stott, 12 years old, from Oxfordshire; and Laurence Jeffcoate, 11 years old, from Cheshire. The three boys, announced last week (See News, 27 May 2008), were chosen by Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber as part of the I’d Do Anything series.

Oliver! is based on Charles Dickens’ literary classic Oliver Twist and, beyond its theatre fanbase, the 1960 stage musical found legions of fans from the 1968 film version starring Mark Lester as Oliver, Shani Wallis as Nancy, Ron Moody as Fagin, Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger and Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes. The score includes now-famous songs including “Consider Yourself”, “It’s a Fine Life”, “As Long as He Needs Me”, “Oom-pah-pah”, “Food, Glorious Food”, “I’d Do Anything” and the title song.

- by Terri Paddock

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