Cheryl Burke, <EM>Dancing with the Stars</EM> Cheryl Burke, Dancing with the Stars

The show may be over, but the drama isn't. As a nearly sold-out crowd of 6,000 settled into Seattle's Key Arena Tuesday night for the opening of the Dancing with the Stars national tour, the announcer made a statement no one wanted to hear: Due to illness, Cheryl Burke would not be dancing. As loud groans filled the auditorium, you had to wonder what fresh disaster had befallen the show and one of its most popular pros.   

"Last night, during the run-through, I was cramping and in pain," Burke tells TV Guide exclusively. "I couldn't even stand up straight." Burke, who was rushed to the hospital, was told that it is a possible case of appendicitis. She will fly home to San Francisco on Wednesday for a second opinion from her family doctors. "I hope it doesn't require surgery," she says. If it does, Burke will be off the two-month tour for an undetermined period of time.

"It's a disaster," says pro Louis van Amstel, who is choreographing the tour and has had to rearrange his lineup so many times he's stopped counting. Karina Smirnoff has stepped in to partner with Drew Lachey, on top of dancing at least a half-dozen more numbers with Van Amstel. "Cheryl can't be gone for more than a week," says Smirnoff. "I won't let her!"

The company arrived in Seattle on Sunday night, giving themselves — they thought — plenty of time to work out the kinks on Monday and Tuesday before the opening night of the 37-city tour. But after Burke got sick, numbers were scratched, partners were changed, and Tuesday became a new dress rehearsal for a radically revamped show. "We had a couple of moments when we ran onto the floor at the wrong time, in the wrong place, in the wrong direction," says Smirnoff. "But that won't happen tonight."

And it didn't. The stars — including Lachey, Sabrina Bryan, Joey Lawrence and Wayne Newton  (who sang but didn't dance) — did a remarkable job blending into the ranks of the pros and making the audience forget that anyone was missing. Bryan in particular dazzled the crowd despite dancing with someone she's just started partnering with: Derek Hough. Hough is filling in for another ailing pro, Mark Ballas, who is recovering from a dislocated left arm and won't be able to join the tour until after Christmas, possibly in San Diego on Dec. 27. "At first," says Bryan, who is dating Ballas, "it was so weird to do the new numbers with someone else. And when Derek and I do the cha cha (the most memorable number she did with Ballas), it's just hard."

But at TV Guide's special booth at the show, where they were having a drawing to upgrade tickets, one fan, 13-year-old Nickolette Ewing of Sumner, Washington, said that Bryan's presence was reason enough to come to the show. "She's my favorite," says Ewing. "Is she the Cheetah Girl?" asks her mom. When you tell her yes, she says, "I knew my daughter would be excited about that."

When TV shows take their acts on the road, there is always the question of whether people will be willing to pay cold, hard cash for something they've been watching for free. And then, once seated, and without benefit of the TV show's 15 cameras, whether they will think they got their money's worth. But the answer came quickly on Tuesday night: The crowd loved it. There is nothing like the powerful kinetic energy of a live performance. The band rocked the house. The dancers put on a display. And even with some favorites missing in action, there is nothing like seeing your Dancing heroes in person.