Art Deco Burlesque Brought Back by Tundra-Mae Fury

By |2019-05-01T15:28:03-04:00May 1st, 2019|Entertainment, Features|

Billed as a musical tour of everything from vaudeville to low-down burlesque, dream ballets and other bombastic Broadway brevities, a highlight of the upcoming Detroit Modernism Week will be a benefit performance by Tundra-Mae Fury on Sunday, May 12, at the Willis Show Bar in Detroit’s historic Cass Corridor.
Titled “Moanin’ Low,” the “temptress” will thrill with torrid torch songs of the ’20s, tantalizing toe-tappers from those Art Deco-era darlings Cole Porter and Libby Holman and even feature a tribute to The Beatles a la Mae West.
Tundra is the alter ego of performer Max Darling.
“I’m on the board of the Art Deco Society and when I joined it was early this year,” said Darling, 50, “they asked if I was interested in the Willis Show Bar and of course I adore the Willis Show Bar. They did a beautiful restoration and for what I do, my act is somewhere between vaudeville, burlesque, some Broadway nonsense that I throw in there, Broadway shows — it’s a mix of all of that. So I was thrilled that they were interested in me doing a revue from that era, from the ’20s up until the ’60s. The Willis is a great setting for that.”
For this special performance, of which there will be two shows at 6 and 9 p.m., “I’m throwing in everything but the kitchen sink,” Darling said. “I have a male singer named Omar Aragones. He’s going to sing, play the guitar. He’s going to join in on ukulele. I’m doing a tribute to torch singers in general, and Libby Holman, who is my favorite of the top three torch singers. Helen Morgan and Ruth Edding would be the other two. I’ll discuss who and what torch singers were. We’re going to then ease into Cole Porter, who is definitely in the Art Deco era, and someone who was very sophisticated but also had a kitschy sense of humor. We’re putting in the ‘Find Me a Primitive Man’ number, which is still pretty popular in his songbook.”
So how, exactly, do you describe such a show or, for that matter, Tundra herself? She has an answer.
“What I do, I think of it as a pastiche,” Darling explained. “The talent is still there. You’re doing a send-up. It could be considered camp to some. I don’t consider it that. I just consider it entertainment. What I do is a burlesque of entertainment types.”
Adding that Tundra-Mae Fury is “my burlesque queen.”
“She is the self-titled queen of burlesque. I don’t like the queen titles. If I’m considered doing drag, fine, but don’t call me a drag queen,” Darling said. “I don’t have any royalty. We live in the United States. We don’t have any royalty here. Same as diva. I don’t take to the title, that is reserved for a female opera singer. And Tundra doesn’t have a diva attitude.”
When asked about the origins of Tundra-Mae Fury’s name, Darling said Tundra Fury came from an old Barbara Cartland romance novel he read in high school.
“I’ve had that on the back burner since high school,” Darling said. “So when Facebook started up I decided that I wanted to be on that character who was on there with her memoirs. I’ve been developing the character on FB for 15 years. People join in. The writing just kind of falls into my lap while people banter back and forth on my page.”
And for Darling’s purposes, Tundra is from Detroit.
“She’s a Detroit girl,” Darling said. “I know enough about show bars, the Flame Show Bar and the Willis and that era because I grew up here. So, I did base Tundra as a Detroit girl going back to the ’20s and the ’30s. By the ’60s, when this show takes place, she’s admitted to 39. But she’s 80 if she’s a day, the old gargoyle.”
And if all goes well at the Willis, Darling said he’d like to expand on the show, too.
“I am currently forming a not-for-profit troupe, a vaudeville troupe, that I will tour and take places,” he said. “I want to package it. It’s something that I’ve done. College towns love it. The era of it is appealing. The burlesque of it brings the comedy of it, not just the tease. The striptease is popular now. It’s as popular as drag is.”
And though it’s obvious that Darling enjoys performance, when asked why he keeps performing as Tundra he said loves “the humor of it.”
“The innuendo is not lost in this day and age. I think it’s become more popular. A lot of entertainment has gotten in your face, kind of loud, kind of ugly. And this is a throwback to, I think, a fun era. The show bar, the Borsch Belt circuit. I interact with my audience,” he said. “I don’t necessarily write a full script. I like to play with the audience. And they like to play back.”
Tundra-Mae Fury and Moanin’ Low will be presented at the Willis Show Bar Sunday, May 12. Tickets are priced at $45 and $55 and include two drinks and tabletop treat boxes provided by Carolyn’s Kitchen. For more information or two purchase tickets, visit

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.