Just hours before Melissa Joan Hart was to wed Mark Wilkerson in Florence on July 19, there was electricity in the air. Unfortunately it wasn’t anywhere else. As Hart’s hairdresser Laurent D. tended to the actress and her seven bridesmaids, “I went to plug in my hairdryer and the curling iron at the same time, and the electricity went out for an hour,” he says. “It got pretty wild.”
Everyone panicked—except for the 27-year-old star of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, who had been spellbound all day long as she prepared to marry Wilkerson, 26, lead singer and guitarist for the hard-rock trio Course of Nature. “Melissa was calm,” says Trisha Hart, 25, her sister and maid of honor. “She’s done so many shoots overseas and knows you run into situations like this.” In fact, Hart had been so jitter-free that afternoon that she even found time for a nap in her room at Florence’s Grand Hotel Villa Cora. “Melissa,” says friend Kerry Sable Villar, “can sleep anywhere.”
But Hart lost her composure when she put on her Reem Acra ivory silk strapless gown, which had the couple’s initials monogrammed in pale-gold embroidery at the end of the veil. “She was about to cry,” says Trisha, “and said, ‘I can’t believe it’s really happening now.’ ” After a quick trip to the balcony to regroup, she was ready to go.
The wedding began at 6 p.m. in a banquet room at the Villa Cora. “It reminds you of Versailles,” says wedding planner Jackson Lowell of the room, which featured a huge garland of cream and white roses displayed over two columns. In front of 90 guests (including Sabrina costar Soleil Moon Frye), Hart walked down the aisle accompanied by her parents—her producing partner Paula, 47, and lobster wholesaler Billy, 51, who split when she was 14—as her sister Ali, 9, played a song on the piano from a music box belonging to Hart’s late grandmother.
Things got more emotional when Hart arrived at the altar. “Melissa couldn’t get her words out because she was shaking so badly,” says Trisha. Wilkerson was overcome too. “Mark was crying,” says Villar, “and Melissa had a hanky and was wiping his eyes.”
After a 40-minute ceremony performed by the Wilkerson family’s Southern Baptist pastor from Alabama, guests settled in for the outdoor reception. “There’s a huge fountain and a balcony that overlooks a big marble terrace,” says wedding planner Lowell. “It’s incredibly romantic.” Sitting under a gazebo, they dined on zucchini stuffed with penne alfredo, veal crusted in pastry and pineapple sailboats. After baking in the 100°F heat, Hart had pressing business to attend to. “Between courses, she took off her shoes, pulled up her dress and sat with her feet in the pool to cool down,” says Villar.
After Trisha’s toast, which poked fun at the multipierced Wilkerson—”I quoted Rita Rudner,” says Trisha, “who said that men who have piercings are better prepared for marriage because they’ve experienced pain and have bought jewelry”—Hart grooved to the sounds of the Italian deejay until 2 a.m. “When we went to say goodbye to her,” says Villar, “she said, ‘I have to go, or Mark is going to kill me!’ ”
Smitten since she introduced his band at the Kentucky Derby’s Mint Jubilee cancer fund-raiser in May 2002, the couple got engaged on Dec. 26. The wedding location was a no-brainer. “I always wanted to get married in Italy,” says Hart, who filmed Sabrina Goes to Rome on location there in 1998.
On July 20′ the couple left for their honeymoon in Scotland, Ireland and England, putting the wrap on not only the wedding but also the filming of Tying the Knot: The Wedding of Melissa Joan Hart, a six-episode reality series premiering July 27 on ABC Family. With Sabrina‘s seven-year run having ended in April, Hart is free to focus on one thing: Now, she says, “we can start enjoying the rest of our lives together.”
Ruth Andrew Ellenson and Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles