By Michelle Tauber
May 19, 2003 12:00 PM

Should Joey ever try to win Rachel’s heart again on Friends, he might consider borrowing a page from the wedding handbook of his alter ego (and we don’t mean Dr. Drake Ramoray): Take a spectacular Hawaiian evening. Add a cliff-top view of the Kauai surf. Bring in strumming guitars. And dance the night away with some of your best friends. So it was May 3 when Matt LeBlanc, who plays lovable lunk Joey Tribbiani on the hit NBC sitcom, married his fiancée of five years, model Melissa McKnight, before a crowd of 75 guests that included Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette and Lisa Kudrow. Says Kudrow: “It was so romantic and beautiful.”

And luxurious enough to befit a $1 million-per-episode TV star. LeBlanc, 35, and McKnight, 38, indulged in a week’s worth of relaxation prior to the big day, culminating in a celebration that featured armfuls of rose petals, free-flowing Dom Pérignon and so much food that even Joey’s endless appetite would have been satisfied. The wedding celebration also served as a girls’ weekend out for Aniston and Cox, who spent an afternoon sipping margaritas on the beach (“We’re gonna go while we can still walk!” declared Aniston). Notably absent were castmates David Schwimmer and Matthew Perry, both of whom had prior theater commitments, and Aniston’s husband, Brad Pitt, who was in Malta shooting the historical epic Troy. For those who could make it, though, it was a wedding to remember—and not just because of the Samoan dancers who juggled flames at the reception. “Everyone,” says a pal, “was completely blown away.”

Friends of the newlyweds—who own a ranch north of L.A.—say the wedding reflected their playful, lei’d back style. “They are stay-at-home people,” a pal says of the couple, who were introduced in ’97 by actor Lou Diamond Phillips and his wife, Kelly. “They like to hike and make big Italian dinners.” Adds another friend: “They’re really sweet together. He loves her and she loves him. It’s very real.”

LeBlanc also has grown close to Tyler, 12, and Jacquelyn, 8—McKnight’s children from an earlier marriage—who served as the couple’s attendants for the ceremony. “He’s amazing with the kids,” says a friend. “He’s like a big kid himself, so they have a great time together.” And while Joey has shied away from commitment, LeBlanc has embraced it. “Matt has been playing Dad to [McKnight’s] kids for years, hosting their birthday parties, taking them on vacations. It’s a role he clearly enjoys,” says a friend.

So what took so long between the first “how you doin’?” in 1997 and the wedding six years later? “The reason for the long engagement was always just work,” says a Friends insider. “Matt’s an only child, and his mother always wanted him to have a real wedding, not a rush job.”

Mom certainly got what she wanted. Despite the presence of paparazzi, the wedding—and the celebratory weekend leading up to it—went off without a hitch. Chowing on coconut-and-pineapple-topped French toast at the Hanalei Wake-up Cafe on Monday, LeBlanc, who had arrived on Kauai with McKnight six days before the wedding, “wanted to try everything, so he ordered a lot,” says a waitress. Three days later the Friends crew arrived, along with Kudrow’s son Julian and husband Michel Stern and Cox’s husband, David Arquette, and the beach party really began.

The revelry kicked into high gear Saturday evening at the big event, held at a private estate overlooking Anini Beach on the island’s north shore. As guests, including LeBlanc’s mom, Patricia, 61, a former office manager in his native Newton, Mass. (she and his father, Paul, 61, a mechanic, split in 1974), arrived at the site, they were welcomed with purple-and-white orchid leis. Then LeBlanc, accompanied by Tyler, took his spot halfway down the petal-strewn bridal path. Twenty minutes later the bride emerged from a white limo with her father, Regis, and daughter Jacquelyn. Carrying a red bouquet wrapped in white ribbons, McKnight joined her groom and together they walked the rest of the way down the aisle. The 25-minute nonreligious ceremony, which included personal vows the couple had written themselves, was led by multidenominational minister Kelvin Ho. “The whole ceremony was very much rooted in Hawaiian tradition,” says LeBlanc pal Al Paterson, who helped coordinate the wedding. At the end, guests showered the couple with handfuls of petals. A champagne toast followed, with Ho declaring, “Gathered friends and family, I would like to introduce Mr. and Mrs. LeBlanc!”

After posing for photos, the LeBlancs and their guests retreated to a nearby tent, where they feasted on Hawaiian-inspired delicacies, danced to traditional island music and watched local performers. Overall “it was very low-key,” says a guest. “It was a really relaxed night.” And one that “has been a while coming,” says a close friend of LeBlanc’s. Speaking to the new groom—now enjoying a two-week honeymoon on Kauai—the day after the ceremony, says the pal, “he just sounded really happy.”

Michelle Tauber

Alexis Chiu, Michael Fleeman, Marisa Laudadio and Jeannie McCabe on Kauai and Julie Jordan, Todd Gold, Elizabeth Leonard and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles