IN THE THEATRE at Sydney's National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), where the cast of Singin' In The Rain has been rehearsing for the musical's Hong Kong season, Jackie Love suddenly breaks into song. 'You don't hear our voice/And you don't see our glow/But we walk with you/Wherever you go,' she sings, filling the empty auditorium with a sweet, plaintive melody. It has nothing to do with Rain, which opens at the Academy for Performing Arts (APA) on Tuesday. It belongs to a number from Angels Calling, Love's forthcoming album in collaboration with Sydney-based Irish composer/lyricist Sioban Cruise. We are sitting in the theatre - not in the stalls, but on stage - because it's the only place we can find at NIDA that is private and has chairs. It's fun, but a little bizarre. So is the fact that in Rain, the only time Love gets to sing, she sounds like a screeching parrot. It's deliberate, of course. As Lina Lamont, the silent movie glamour queen whose transition to talkies turns out to be an unmitigated disaster, Love is required to look fabulous, ham it up and have a voice to cry for - all of which she achieves brilliantly. 'I love playing Lina,' Love says. 'That role is the pick of the bunch. It's really funny, plus I get to wear gorgeous costumes. I can't think of a downside.' The garb created for Lina, leading lady for Hollywood heart-throb Don Lockwood - the character immortalised by Gene Kelly in the original 1952 MGM movie - reminds of another irony. Lina's outfits may be lavish, but they give only a modest hint of Love's legendary assets: long, shapely pins once described as Australia's most famous legs. The Perth-born star is famous for a lot more. In the mid-80s, at just 19, she was chosen as support act for an Australian tour by Sammy Davis Jnr, who was so impressed by her singing and dancing - her legs stole the show when she whipped off her skirt during one high-octane number - he invited her to perform as his special guest at Lake Tahoe, Nevada. 'Sammy thought that would be more suitable for me than Las Vegas because I was still pretty young, and he was really supportive when I came over to the States. We had a lovely association,' Love recalls. It was the start of an international career that has seen Love give several Royal Command Performances in Britain, for Sweden's king and queen, and for Pope John Paul II. She has also made TV specials in Europe and Singapore, starred in a raft of musicals including Hello Dolly, Hot Shoe Shuffle and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and for the past five years has hosted An Australian Christmas at Sydney's Darling Harbour, which draws live audiences of up to 100,000. Her talents have won her Australia's premier award, the Mo, for best female vocalist six times, but fame hasn't turned her into a real-life Lina Lamont. Unlike that vain, one-trick harpy, the down to earth Love is a genuine class act. The daughter of a master mariner with the Australian merchant marines, she had an idyllic childhood in Perth, where she was a junior diving champion and dreamed of becoming a ballerina. 'I started learning ballet at five, but at 11 one of my knees packed up with a congenital problem and I spent a year in callipers,' she says. 'It was very traumatic, because I loved dancing and could have done it seven days a week, so to distract me, my mother took me to a singing teacher. 'That's how I discovered what I really wanted to do and I've never had any doubts about it. I [still] absolutely drink it up.' It was the singing teacher who got the ball rolling by entering Love in a television talent quest. The following year, the vivacious blonde charmer with the thrilling voice was invited back as a guest artist and, by 16, she was teaching, choreographing and directing children for a popular youth talent show on Perth television. More than 20 years on, Love is as versatile as ever, though at times she has encountered scepticism. 'When I was cast as Hedy La Rue in How To Succeed In Business in 1992 - my first comedy role - I found myself working with [the late Australian actor] Noel Ferrier and remember thinking, 'He doesn't think I can do this'. Well, I could and I had a ball. 'It's not always great. I've just done a show which had a lot of problems, mainly because it was let down by the technical people. They were talented, but very young and lacked experience, and it struck me how vital it is for older professionals to pass on their knowledge and wisdom.' The entertainment business may be about looks and image, but more and more women are standing up for their ideals. Love's collaborator Cruise is one of those women, notes Love. With the release of Angels Calling early next year, they will have completed a trilogy. The two earlier albums, City Of Gold and Ancient Eyes, won rave reviews from fans across the globe, including inspirational guru Deepak Chopra. 'He flew me over to Palm Springs to sing numbers from Ancient Eyes at his three-day new millennium event which was televised across America and had a live satellite link with the Dalai Lama,' says Love. 'It was an incredible experience, but not even two years on, we have the Middle East situation and it doesn't seem to me that we've entered an enlightened new era with the focus on peace and unity. It's all so worrying.' Rain in Hong Kong is the perfect antidote, says Love. She adores the musical, enjoys working with producer/director David Atkins - 'he does everything with such a perfectionist's eye' - and is looking forward to catching up with fellow singer Frances Yip. 'Frances and I have been friends for years and she even taught me a Chinese song. I still know the words,' says Love, before promptly launching into Shanghai Beach. Eat your heart out, Lina. This leading lady really can sing. In Cantonese, what's more. Singin' In The Rain, APA Lyric Theatre, Monday- October 27. Tickets $350-$695, weekend matinees $295-$595. Ticketek and outlets including APA, Fringe Club and ESDlife kiosks. For more information: www.singinintherain.com.hk . To win one of five pairs of tickets to the show, visit the totallyhk Web site at totallyhk.scmp.com.