A couple of years ago, Annie Crummer was confronted with every singer's worst nightmare - she completely lost her voice. Along with it, she lost her confidence.

"It all went, everything," she says.

The Kiwi singer was touring with the Australian cast of the musical We Will Rock You. Today she is sitting in a cafe in Auckland's Ponsonby sipping green tea. Her voice has long returned and there are no visible signs of a woman lacking in confidence - just the warm and bubbly person I'd expected her to be.

It seems Annie Crummer has got her groove back. And, when she takes to the stage at the Civic in Auckland this month for the Tony Award-winning rock opera Rent, she is vowing to "frickin' bring it!"

Crummer, who is now in her 40s, captured the nation's heart in 1985 when she popped up in the Netherworld Dancing Toys' hit For Today. In the video for the song, the big-haired, baggy shirt-wearing girl from West Auckland was barely out of her teens and painfully shy. But she stole the show when, two minutes and 40 seconds in, she took control of the microphone.

"Now I speak fast and excitedly because I'm insecure, like everybody else," she smiles. "But back then I was a very shy cuzzie, so when I got the opportunity to make a lot of noise, I sang the shit out of it, didn't I?

"Then I'd go, 'Was that OK?', not knowing anything," Crummer says, hanging her head, eyes fixed on the ground. "I'd know everybody's shoes but nobody's faces, because I was crazy shy."

It is difficult to fathom why someone so intensely introverted would choose a life of entertaining others. And it beggars belief why, more than a decade ago, she left the familiarity and safety of the New Zealand music scene for the highly competitive world of musical theatre across the Tasman.

But it was a brave leap of faith that landed Crummer an ensemble role in the Australian production of Rent, the edgy, modern reinterpretation of Puccini's La Boheme. It is the gritty tale of a group of Bohemian artists and friends fighting to survive in New York's Lower East Side under the cloud of the Aids epidemic.

"Back then I needed to take advantage of an opportunity that was going to freak me out," Crummer says. "I had a choice to either stay in a safe rut of security in terms of my music, or go and learn something new; make a whole heap of new mistakes instead of the same old ones."

Rent was Crummer's first foray into musicals and to this day remains close to her heart, which is why she cannot wait to bring it home, something the singer is not sure she could have done 10 years ago. "It's taken this long for Rent to happen here in New Zealand because it's controversial. We're so conservative here. Even a decade ago, I don't think any producer would've been brave enough to take it on because I guess when you come to a musical you want a bit of fantasy, to get away from that everyday life.

"And Rent is all about life and death, Aids, gays, lesbians, homeless people - as I'm speaking about it, you can tell how raw it still is. The issues are very real."

What's more, Crummer plays a lesbian lawyer, Joanne, a role she knows well after playing understudy for it in Australia. But it's one she's still taken time out to research, even headlining at the Big Gay Out festival in Auckland's Point Chevalier for inspiration.

"When I was driving to the park in Point Chev, you could feel the energy; you could feel that you were going to a place where you could just be you, where no one is judged. I just went out there and said 'Hey poofters!' and they all screamed.

"Then I said, 'You fellas are going to come and see Rent and you know I'm playing a lesbian, right? Are there any lesbians out there?' and they all screamed," she says with a laugh.

The bottom line, Crummer says, is that she's just acting, but if her portrayal of Joanne is believable enough for people to think that she really is gay, she's perfectly fine with that.

"Perhaps playing this role is the sort of scandal that I need right now. I don't have a problem if people think I'm gay, because I've got nothing to worry about. I love gay people, they've been such loyal fans to me."

And she does value her fans dearly - from those who queued down the street in their hundreds to laugh and sing along with the all-girl band When The Cat's Away in the late 1980s, to those who still stop her on the street to ask if she's Annie Crummer and question where she's been all these years.

The truth is she never really went away. When she finished performing Rent in Australia, Crummer took on the role of Killer Queen in the musical We Will Rock You, receiving critical acclaim from none other than Queen's Roger Taylor and Brian May, whom she auditioned in front of.

"I was shitting, man. But when you get given an opportunity like that, you go out there and you give it your absolute best. You be the best you can be - you don't blow that opportunity."

The show took her around the world and kept her in work.

"For about five years I was on a working sabbatical. It was a holiday from my own solo career. I was in a Queen covers band if you like, blessed by the brothers themselves. I am so grateful for that, because you know, you make more money working for the man than you do working on your own projects."

Bubbling away, however, is Crummer's desire to return to making her own music. And although she's now working on a new solo album, she's brutally honest about just how difficult it is.

"I still have to re-prove myself because apparently I don't fit the criteria," she says of the disheartening and rigorous process of applying for funding grants.

"I might be a household name, but I still don't fit the criteria and they're afraid they'll get haters if I get given a grant because I used to be someone. There's all that stuff - it's just bullshit.

"And there's this fear of being hated by the cool mass," she adds, referring to what now seems to be the marker for whether or not you make it in the industry. "But I'm cool with my uncoolness, believe me. It seems too hard to be cool, not that I've tried ... "

Despite the knock-backs, Crummer has an admirable exuberance for what she does and has always done - entertain. She may not, as she claims, fit a certain criteria, be of a certain age or be able to deliver a chart-topping pop hit as she did 20-odd years ago, but she's a fighter. That alone makes her anything but uncool.

"I am resilient," she admits. "There was a time when I used to let it frickin' eat me up because I'm human. And it still hurts now. I don't even read reviews, I might not even read this, because I like to focus on what I'm doing. Whether you get praise or rip-downs ... You do the best you can, and you do it really well."

And when the curtain goes up for Rent on April 22, you'd better believe that's exactly what Annie Crummer will do.

Rent runs at the Civic in Auckland from April 22 to May 7.