CASTING Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman aren’t known for their harmonizing, but they’ll flex their pipes in the musical ”Moulin Rouge.” The film, which is not a remake of the 1952 musical, takes place in Paris in 1899, when a poet (McGregor) begins a tumultuous love affair with a nightclub star (Kidman). The duty of making musicals popular again is in the hands of writer/director Baz Luhrmann, who made Shakespeare hip in 1996 with his Leonardo DiCaprio version of ”Romeo and Juliet”…. Sharon Stone and Ellen DeGeneres are pairing for one of the three stories in HBO’s anthology ”If These Walls Could Talk 2.” While the first ”Walls” trilogy focused on abortion, this time around the stories are all about lesbian life in America. Anne Heche is writing and directing the duo’s segment…. Hey, Shakespeare — you can start rolling over now! Martial-arts star Jet Li and hip-hopper Aaliyah will star in ”Romeo Must Die,” an adaptation of ”Romeo and Juliet,” with head-kicks and a booming soundtrack taking the place of iambic pentameter.
UNDER SUSPICION Death Row Records honcho Marion ”Suge” Knight is currently being investigated for the 1997 murder of Notorious B.I.G. as part of the East Coast/West Coast rapper wars. During a search at the Death Row offices on Tuesday, police seized a car that matched witnesses’ description of the shooter’s car. Though Knight has been serving a nine-year sentence since 1996 for an unrelated attack on some amateur rappers and was in jail at the time of the Los Angeles shooting of B.I.G., police suspect he had a role in the planning of the murder, which took place six months after the Las Vegas killing of Tupac Shakur, a Death Row artist. A call to Knight’s lawyer was referred to his publicist, who had no comment.
SPEAKING OUT With many news reports leaping to blame heavy metal and gothic rockers for their influence on the two student murderers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., the industry is defending itself. Marilyn Manson, whose name has been repeatedly linked to the two shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, released a short statement that read, ”It’s tragic and disgusting anytime young people’s lives are taken in an act of senseless violence. My condolences go out to the students and their families.” (Manson was scheduled to play a radio-station-sponsored concert in Denver on April 30, but the show was canceled as per the mayor’s request.) The head of the Recording Industry Association of America, Hilary Rosen, also made a statement, obviously disturbed at the attention being focused on such artists as Manson, Rammstein, and KMFDM. First offering her deepest condolences, Rosen then writes, ”In the coming days, we may find out more about the cause of this tragedy, but we do know that music does not drive teenagers to violent despair, nor does it put guns and weapons in the hands of children. It’s too easy to make music a scapegoat.”
RETIRING Top-selling rapper Mase has reportedly announced that he is retiring from music and dedicating himself to ”following God.” Although he has agreed to promote his upcoming album, ”Double Up” (in stores in June), he won’t play any concerts and will only do speaking engagements and organize charity events for inner-city kids. Mase — whose real name is Mason Betha — is retiring at the top, considering that his last album, ”Harlem’s World” (1997), sold 3 million copies.
TUBE WATCH Kenny Rogers belts out his fans’ favorites this Saturday night at 9 p.m., in an encore presentation of ”Live By Request” on cable’s A&E channel. Rogers’ concert, which was broadcast live Wednesday evening from the Sony Sound Studio in Manhattan, is the 12th installment of the ratings-grabbing series created by TV exec Danny Bennett and his famous papa, Tony. ”Live By Request” allows viewers to phone or e-mail their song requests to the performer, who’s given TelePrompter lyrics in case the requests get too obscure. Rogers, who will release his 57th album, ”She Rides Wild Horses,” on May 11, needed no prompting as he performed ”Lady,” ”Lucille,” ”She Believes in Me,” and of course, ”The Gambler.”
REEL DEALS Ingmar Bergman’s latest script, the love-triangle drama ”Faithless,” will go before the cameras in August, with actress and longtime coworker Liv Ullmann directing…. After Christine Lahti leaves ”Chicago Hope” at the end of this season, she’ll keep busy by directing her first full-length film, ”My First Mister,” a comedy about the love affair between an outcast teenager and an older man. Lahti won an Oscar in 1996 for her short film ”Lieberman in Love”…. After directing such big-screen spectacles as ”Cliffhanger,” ”Die Hard 2” and ”Cutthroat Island,” Renny Harlin is turning his attention to the tube. He’s exec-producing and directing a pilot for Fox called ”Terror T.R.A.X. (Trace, Research, Analyze and Exterminate).” The half-hour, genre-crossing serial — which nods to ”Cops” with its hand-held cameras and shot-on-videotape look — chronicles a special police unit that tracks paranormal evil. If Fox picks up ”Terror,” the series would probably debut in early 2000.
SIGNING OFF Paparazzi will have one less place to peddle their wares: ”Hard Copy” has been canceled, after 10 years on the air.
LIVE CHAT On Monday, April 26 at 8:30 p.m. EST, Entertainment Weekly Online will go to the Fifth Annual Avignon/New York Film Festival for a live chat with cast members from HBO’s ”The Sopranos” — Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore, and Tony Sirico. They’re costarring (with Michael Roderick from ”Another World”) in the new urban drama, ”Under Hellgate Bridge,” which premieres at the festival. Talk with them on Monday evening about their new film and ”The Sopranos.”
(Additional reporting by Dan Snierson)