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'Rent' Stage Cast Sparkles on Screen

Jason Lewis and Rosario Dawson | Grammy Nominees | John Belushi | May Pang

Rosario and Jason Met With Spotless Minds

One of my favorite people, Jason Lewis — the model/actor who cavorted with Kim Cattrall on "Sex and the City" in the last two seasons — told me a sweet story last night at the premiere of "Rent," the movie based on the musical.

"Rent" stars a large cast composed mostly of its original Broadway stars. But Lewis’ girlfriend, Rosario Dawson, took the place of a pregnant Daphne Rubin-Vega as Mimi, the heroin-addict with a heart of gold.

Dawson is so exceptionally good that she may very well wind up in the Best Supporting category in most of the awards shows.

And who knew Dawson could sing? Dawson doesn’t just ‘creek,' (sorry), she belts and does a damn good job of it.

Jason told me he found out shortly after they became an official couple.

"We’d both been working," he said, "and we decided to rent a house in St. John in the Virgin Islands. She put the radio on and started singing along. I couldn’t believe it."

Lewis told me, by the way, that the couple’s first date was to see "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" at the Union Square Cineplex on 14th St. in New York City.

"It’s a great first date movie," he laughed, since the odd film hinges on a kind of first date between Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.

As for Jason, he just finished filming some episodes of the new John Wells ("China Beach") series, "The Evidence," which will be an ABC midseason replacement.

He’s also in "The Attic," a new feature by hip director Mary Lambert. If you’ve never seen Lambert’s film "Siesta," starring Ellen Barkin and Gabriel Byrne, buy it or rent it immediately. It’s a lost classic.

And what about "Rent," you ask? Well, Rosario is a standout, as is Anthony Rapp as Mark, the main character of the piece.

Rapp carries Mark over from the original stage production effortlessly. It’s only because he’s the central figure that I’m citing him, because the entire cast of the movie is flawless. Tracy Thoms, Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Adam Pascal, all of them.

It was particularly interesting to see Jesse L. Martin, better known from "Law and Order," show off his accomplished singing voice. He’s terrific.

Chris Columbus ("Home Alone," "Harry Potter") directed "Rent," and what he’s done is sort of polyurethane the grit of the story so that the whole thing is quite shiny and high gloss.

Just as "Lost" is "Gilligan’s Island" with good grooming, movie "Rent" is Broadway’s "Rent" with lots of moolah and great cinematography.

The result can be a little disconcerting. Manhattan's once-dingy Lower East Side, AIDS and crack sometime seem like they’ve been moved into a great Pepsi commercial.

But "Rent" is mostly about movement, light and music. Just as some of us old folks loved "Hair" and the next generation took "Fame" to heart, "Rent" has its own legions of fans. They’re going to love it, and they won’t be misguided.

Barkin (see above) and Ronald Perelman attended the big screening at the Ziegfeld in Manhattan last night with their kids, and the house was packed with friends and family, including Joey Fatone of *NSYNC, who has played Mark on Broadway.

"A fat Mark," Joey joked.

In fact, he’s very svelte now and looking for projects while Justin Timberlake is recording a new album. Then *NSYNC will get back in the studio themselves.

By the way: Astute audience members last night noticed a familiar face in the one of the early scenes — that of "Radio Man," a beloved local character who rides a bike to premieres, is a bit unwashed and is said to have been the model for "The Fisher King."

Recently, XM Satellite Radio enlisted "Radio Man" (he wears a radio-cassette player around his neck on a chain) for an ad campaign. In exchange, they gave him a brand spanking new motorized bike from Giant emblazoned with his name and theirs on both sides. Safe riding, "Radio Man"!

Grammy Groups Meet This Weekend

The Grammy Award committees are meeting this weekend in Los Angeles. They are all at a big hotel, but if I give the location, bad things are bound to happen.

Nevertheless, here are my suggestions for a couple of categories. Best Album — "American Idiot," Green Day; "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," U2; "A Time 2 Love," Stevie Wonder; "Late Registration," Kanye West; and "The Emancipation of Mimi," Mariah Carey.

Best Song — "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Green Day; "Original of the Species," U2; "Shelter in the Rain," Stevie Wonder; "We Belong Together," Mariah Carey; and "Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson.

Look for Paul McCartney’s "Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard" to wind up in the Best Pop Album category, and The Rolling Stones’ "A Bigger Bang," in Best Rock Album.

McCartney should also wind up in Best Male Vocal, Pop, for "Fine Line." Let’s just hope the younger committee members don’t mix him up with Jesse McCartney. That would be hard to explain!

And let’s hope that honorary awards, or a special segment, go to the great New Orleans musicians who’ve been put out of their hometown and lost a great deal of livelihood. I’m thinking of Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint and of course, our hero, Antoine "Fats" Domino.

Belushi Finally Gets His Due

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about a great new coffee table book by actor Matthew Modine called "Full Metal Diary," which chronicles his experiences making Stanley Kubrick’s "Full Metal Jacket."

The same publisher, Rugged Land, has also just published the definitive work on late actor/comedian John Belushi.

Simply called "Belushi," the oversized tome was put together by Belushi’s widow, Judith Belushi Pisano, and writer Tanner Colby.

Colby says that this is the book on Belushi, and I have to agree. It’s filled with stories and pictures no one’s ever seen, including Polariods donated by Dan Aykroyd. Aykroyd also wrote the foreword to the book.

John Landis, who directed Belushi in "Animal House," tells one of the many dozens of great anecdotes. He and Belushi wound up going to La Costa Spa near San Diego to cool out after the shoot was over. They met the legendary William Holden, and Belushi bugs him to do lines from "Sunset Boulevard."

One night they have dinner with Holden and he offers this advice: "The press will knock you down, but you just have to get back up. Then you’ll be a hero all over again. Just take it all for what it’s worth. They’re good to you when you’re on top, but once you start to slip a little, they’ll try and tear you down. Most of the press are scum. They’re vampires. They’ll suck you dry, and they’ll hate you if you die in your sleep."

"Why’s that?" asks Belushi.

"Because it’s bad copy," replies Holden.

True enough!

May's Pang of Distrust; Window Paintings

May Pang, John Lennon’s girlfriend in the mid-1970s, says she was interviewed for tonight’s NBC "Dateline" special on Lennon. But now she’s been cut out, along with several other interviewees, so the show can devote itself to Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.

"They’re glorifying a murderer," May insists. "'Dateline' said the show was about John. They never mentioned Chapman to me. It’s terrible."

Frankly, it doesn’t sound good. I don’t think Lennon’s real fans will enjoy a two-hour special that features Chapman explaining himself. Personally, I don’t care what he has to say. But the exploitation of Lennon continues as we get closer to the 25th anniversary of his death….

…Last night, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation had its annual fundraiser. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Robin and Marsha Williams and Dana Reeve were all scheduled to attend. The Foundation carries on in Chris’s memory, raising money for important research. Their website is www.christopherreeve.org. If you’re looking for an end of the year charity, this is a good choice…

I did laugh, though, seeing The National Enquirer try to make a whole story out of a line from one of our columns of last week. I mentioned Reeve had a boyfriend, and the Enquirer made two pages out of it without breaking a sweat. I won’t charge them for my time, but I think they should donate $1,000 to the foundation in Dana’s honor as recompense…

If you’re in New York City's Greenwich Village this weekend, stop by Broadway and West 10th St. The great artist Ludvic, who sculpts in steel, is exhibiting some of his work at New York University’s Broadway Windows. These whimsical pieces, called "Steel Jam," are assembled and soldered with tools from hardware shops. They’re already in some celebrity homes. Buyers cannot get enough of them…