The Popovich Comedy Pet Theater, now in its 15th season at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, closed out the CacheARTS 2021-22 National Touring Season with a performances at the Ellen Eccles Theatre on Wednesday.
LOGAN – The Popovich Comedy Pet Theater was part pantomime and part juggling act with rescued cats, dogs, birds, pigs and a horse mixed in.
As the last act in the Cache Valley Center for the Art’s 2021-22 National Touring Season, it was a throwback to the days when animal acts were a staple on vaudeville stages across America.
It was also good, clean family fun.
Gregory Popovich is a Ukrainian juggler who decided to juice up his act with animals. A veteran of the world-famous Moscow Circus, he now performs at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
I can’t imagine what traveling from Las Vegas to Logan was like with a dozen dogs (including a full-grown Huskie), 15 cats, a pig, a Shetland pony and assorted birds was like. But I’m glad that Popovich decided to make that trek.
The audience at the Ellen Eccles Theatre on Wednesday evening ate up Popovich’s unusual shtick.
The theater’s 1,300 seats were nearly filled with youngsters, teens, parents and grandparents. There were even a handful of elderly folks who looked old enough to have seen animal acts in vaudeville (just kidding).
In the good ol’ days, vaudeville performers called these kinds of animal acts “dumb shows.” They scheduled them at the beginning and end of their bills of fare because, not relying on dialogue, they performed while audiences were shuffling in and out of the theaters.
After vaudeville died with the advent of silent movies in the early 20th Century, many of these animal acts transferred to traveling circuses in America.
Another haven for animal acts in the 1950s and 1960s was Ed Sullivan’s televised variety show on Sunday nights (but now I’m dating myself).
Since animal rights activists shut down America’s last circus around 2018, the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater may be the last surviving animal act.
Popovich performs with four clowns who are also acrobats in a pantomime of a juggler who is always in trouble with his boss. During several vignettes, Popovich juggles balls, metal plates, boxes and finally bowling pins while balancing on an ten-foot ladder.
In separate scenes, he worked with the animals to perform some pretty nifty tricks.
Popovich learned the art of animal training from his mother, who was also a European circus performer. He shared his expertise for raising, training and living harmoniously with pets in two books that were available for sale in the lobby – You CAN Train Your Cat and Doggy Gone Good.
With a nod to animal rights activists who may be listening, he emphasized that much of his approach to training pets is just common sense.
“The trick to training cats,” Popovich said, “is to figure out what they like to do and then just let them do it.”
As the owner of six definitely untrained cats, that sounds like good advise to me.
As the CacheARTS 2021-22 touring season came to an end, the group’s executive director Wendi Hassan thanked the season’s sponsors including the Wasatch Logan Arts Foundation, Cache Valley Bank, Utah Arts and Museums, the Utah State Legislature, Cache County RAPZ/Restaurant Tax, the George S. & Delores Doré Eccles Foundation, L&L Enterprises, the Emma Eccles Jones Foundation, the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation – Russell Family, CONSERVICE, the Measom Family Foundation and Cache Valley Media Group.
Ms. Hassan added that she will soon be announcing the line-up for the 2022-23 National Touring Season, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the Ellen Eccles Theatre.
The Cache Valley Center for the Arts is an independent non-profit organization that promotes the use of Cache Valley’s publicly owned cultural arts facilities.
Those facilities include the Ellen Eccles Theatre, the Thatcher-Young Mansion and the Bullen Center.