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Pet theater troupe delivers the goods

The Popovich Comedy Pet Theater hasn’t changed a lot in seven years, and doesn’t really need to.

Except maybe, the advertising. It could be more relevant. The family circus could hitch its star to a lot of things that have come along since it started playing afternoons at the V Theater at the Miracle Mile Shops in Planet Hollywood Resort.

Ever seen “Too Cute,” the Animal Planet show devoted to puppies and kittens making you say “Awww”? You are sure to say it over and over again here, whether it’s a dog riding a skateboard or dogs and cats boarding a little choo-choo train that circles the stage puffing steam.

Or what about those Disney “Buddies” movies, the ones with the cute doggies in little costumes speaking with human voices via computer-animated mouths?

The opening eight minutes of Popovich’s show are as front-loaded as any show on the Strip. Recorded voices give life to the dogs’ thoughts as a quiet morning in front of a building facade — “Where’s my paper?” a dog says as he opens a mailbox to retrieve one — erupts into chaos with a fire and dogs-to-the-rescue mission.

Take that, “Super Buddies.” Popovich dogs in little fire helmets don’t need no stinkin’ CGI to climb ladders, jump from windows or have three dogs hold a rescue tarp in their mouths so a cat can jump right into the middle of it.

And yes, Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” did debut a year before Popovich settled into the V Theater in 2006. But we don’t need to nitpick as long as we get to see dogs play ball by chasing balloons on a miniature field, popping them to score.

Gregory Popovich is a Russian Circus-trained juggler who performed at Circus-Circus from 1991 through 2001, building up his animal entourage from one dog and one cat by recruiting at rescue shelters.

He and his critters have been on most of the late-night talk shows, and competed on “America’s Got Talent” in 2007 — the year Terry Fator won — only to see another trained animal act, the Olate Dogs, win the whole thing in 2012.

But the family act — his wife, Izolda, and daughter Anastasia are among the quintet of humans — just keeps on doing its low-profile thing for a solid part of each year at the V (touring the rest of the time).

The show has become a little slicker over the years, and makes good use of the V Theater’s video wall backdrop; there’s even an animated cartoon segment for one transition.

But it’s still in many ways the anti-Cirque du Soleil, with an old-school European vibe in its frantic music and costumes with top hats and epaulettes.

Popovich himself remains an impressive juggler, balancing on a stack of cylinders and catching plates thrown at him from three directions. And in the middle of this noisy show comes a quiet, Chaplin-esque moment as he plays a dejected tramp sharing food with a canine co-star.

But if the old-fashionedness of it isn’t endearing to Cirque-conditioned audiences, all is forgiven by the grand finale featuring 14 cats. One jumps through a hoop, then another jumps through a hoop covered with paper.

It’s a show where the humans know the old show-biz adage about not trying to upstage dogs, and they don’t even try. You can juggle until the cows come home, but the cat riding the dog that walks on its hind legs is going to get more applause.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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