Lawfully Wedded

updated 04/13/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/13/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A high-kicking TV icon finds true love at work

HAD IT BEEN XENA, WARRIOR PRINcESS, who got married on March 28 and not Lucy Lawless—the stunner from Down Under who plays the Amazonian butt-kicker on TV—things would have been different. Instead of walking down the aisle, for instance, Xena would have done back flips. She might have let out a deafening war cry rather than just a discreet "I do." And surely she would have run her trusty sword through a caterer or two had they overheated the hors d'oeuvres.

One other thing: Xena wouldn't have gotten all weepy. Yet there was Lawless, 30, sniffling away as she exchanged vows in a Catholic ceremony with Rob Tapert, 43, an executive producer on her hit syndicated series. "There were moments that she had her handkerchief handy," says Renee O'Connor, who plays Xena's gal pal Gabrielle. "Looking at her dress, I don't know where she kept it." Having traded her leather miniskirt for a slinky, hand-beaded, silk-satin ivory gown by Xena costume designer Ngila Dickson, Lawless lit up the Saint Monica Church in Santa Monica. "Lucy looked so radiant," says O'Connor. "She was beaming."

And why not? The 5'10" beauty from Auckland, New Zealand, who's now in her third year as the gladiator-stomping goddess, surrendered her heart with abandon. "This has been the greatest year of my life," she told PEOPLE after the ceremony (and before slipping away to an undisclosed honeymoon hideaway). "Rob is the finest man I've ever known." Divorced from first husband Garth Lawless since 1995 (they have daughter Daisy, 9), Lawless met the never-wed Tapert when she was hired for a spot on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in 1995. Impressed, he and the show's other producers spun her off into her own series; two years later she and Tapert were an item. "I've waited 43 years for this day," he told PEOPLE. "And 43 years for this woman."

Their latest coproduction was a formal yet funky affair for 340, including most of the Xena cast. "We see each other slogging around in the mud all the time," O'Connor says, laughing. "Nobody believed we could clean up as well as we did." The reception at the ritzy Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills had a seafaring theme (Tapert is a fishing aficionado) that included a cake topped with figurines of a mermaid and Poseidon. There was also a surprise Elvis impersonator and obligatory hoofing to a 15-piece band. Taking no chances, Lawless had brought dance instructors to the set a few weeks earlier. "We'd break for lunch," says O'Connor, "then practice our rumba and cha-cha." Even so, "being out there on the dance floor was like going on a bumper-car course."

The smoothest move took place right after the newlyweds finished their first dance to "Beyond the Sea." As guests tapped spoons to their glasses, Tapert "reached over, dipped Lucy and gave her this big kiss," says a friend of the couple's. "The entire room cheered." Xena, Warrior Princess, would have flipped the guy over her shoulder. But Lawless, brimming with joy, merely swooned.

ALEX TRESNIOWSKI
CRAIG TOMASHOFF in Los Angeles

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