Broadway has been very good to Kristin Chenoweth. She became a star on Broadway, winning a Tony Award for “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” in 1999 and worldwide attention for her performance as Glinda in the musical “Wicked.” Chenoweth owes nearly all her professional successes to Broadway. But, given her druthers, she prefers being on stage with a pianist or small orchestra, free to improvise night to night, song to song.

“There is nothing better than standing up on stage and belting out the songs you love,” Chenoweth said. “This is what I feel I was born to do. I hate to say that I love doing this the most, because truthfully I love being able to do it all. But I am most happy from 8 to 10 when I am on that stage.”

Chenoweth will sing a lifetime of her favorite songs, including some from “Wicked” and other Broadway shows, when she performs at Merrill Auditorium on Oct. 1.

She comes to town one week after she releases an album of songs from the American songbook, “The Art of Elegance.” She will sing in Portland with the accompaniment of a pianist, a simple format that allows her the latitude to adjust her show to her own mood and the mood of the audience.

Aimee Petrin, executive director of Portland Ovations, said she’s been trying to get Chenoweth to Portland for a few years.

“She sparkles,” Petrin said. “She is one of those performers who radiates such amazing presence and artistry. For us, it’s a perfect kickoff” to the Portland Ovations’ performance season.

Her new CD includes “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and the Johnny Mercer heart-melter “Skylark.”

Chenoweth spoke by phone from Los Angeles, where she and Jennifer Hudson, Martin Short, Harvey Fierstein and others in the cast of “Hairspray Live!” were preparing for their Dec. 7 live broadcast of the musical on NBC. They had just begun a read-through of the script and were working on publicity.

Chenoweth was eager to talk about her album and tour. She made “The Art of Elegance” as a tribute to Linda Ronstadt, one of her favorite singers and an early influence. Ronstadt made a series of records in the 1980s with standards that Chenoweth came to love. Ronstadt introduced a generation of younger listeners to songs like “I Get Along Without You Very Well” by Hoagy Carmichael, Chenoweth said. She hopes she can do the same things with “The Art of Elegance.”

“I want a younger singer to say, ‘I can put my spin on that,’ ” she said. “When I think about big influences in my life, country music is one. Christian music was a big one, of course. But when I look back, Linda Ronstadt might have been the biggest. Because of her, I feel like I’ve been working on this record literally my whole life.”

The 48-year-old singer grew up in Oklahoma, where she is a member of both the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Her career spans theater, TV and film. She’s won Emmy and Tony awards, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is a best-selling author. But it’s her high soprano that distinguishes her and keeps her jumping from one high-profile project to the next, between New York and Los Angeles.

These concerts keep her honest as a performer, she said, because they force her out of routine. She likes to change the show as much as she can, and she is eager to add songs from her new album to the set.


Chenoweth: People will have a better understanding of who I am because of the songs I sing.” Photo courtesy of Portland Ovations Photo courtesy of Portland Ovations

She constructs her concerts so they tell the story of her life, through song. She likes to sing “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables” to honor people she knows who serve in the military. “Given the times we live in, it rings truer for me than every before,” she said.

The heartache of Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” a song about growing wiser in love, holds its own private meaning for Chenoweth. She almost always closes her concerts with “I Was Here,” a statement about making a difference in the world.

“What I like about doing these concerts is that I am not hiding behind a role,” she said. “I am being me and singing songs that will become clear why I am singing them. People will have a better understanding of who I am because of the songs I sing.”

And yes, she absolutely will sing songs from “Wicked” and other shows. She may even include something from “Hairspray,” though at the time of this interview she had yet to tackle the material. Chenoweth will begin focusing more time on “Hairspray Live!” in October. Preparing months for a single night of live TV differs from preparing for a long run of a Broadway show. It’s as much work, but it’s over quickly. And even though “Hairspray Live!” will be seen by millions of people on TV, the cast will perform without an audience.

The audience, Chenoweth said, is important. That’s why she’s on the road, singing the songs she loves the most.

“It’s a beautiful relationship between the artist and the audience, and if the artist is a really good listener, it can be incredible for everyone. That’s what I live for. That’s what I want each time I take the stage.”