Several months before starring in "She's Back on Broadway", Virginia Mayo starred in another Warners film which is better than this one: "She's Working Her Way Through College". These two films are not related, but their similar titles and similarity of tone suggest that somebody at Warners was trying to exercise an overall strategy for Mayo's film career.
In "She's Back on Broadway", Mayo plays Catherine Terriss, a Hollywood actress who starred in several movies a while back, but whose film career is now idling. (Ironically, Mayo herself was never as great a star as the character she plays here!) The opening scene grabs our attention, and promises that this will be no typical frothy musical. Catherine is sitting at the pool of her movie-star mansion, reading a newspaper headline about another film actress who has just committed suicide. The other actress was only slightly older than Catherine, with a similar career arc: Catherine tells her manager (the excellent Larry Keating) that she's afraid she'll land up the same way. Desperate to give her career a jolt, she quits Hollywood and returns to where she started: Broadway. Using her own savings, she bankrolls a stage musical and hires big-deal director Rick Sommers to direct it.
Sommers is played by Steve Cochran, an underrated actor who never got the career he deserved ... possibly because Cochran had leading-man looks but his talents were geared more towards character roles. He gives a fine performance in this movie as the dynamic Broadway director, but Cochran is lumbered with some gimmicky dialogue. After giving his cast a spirited pep-talk, he abruptly relaxes and tells them something which contradicts everything he's already said: 'You'll find we're very easily satisfied...' Then, before this can sink in, he straight away changes mood again and barks: '...with perfection! And nothing less!'
Gene Nelson (an ingratiating song-and-dance man whose gymnastic talents were never properly utilised) auditions for a role in the show. He barely sings four bars before Cochran tells him to come back tomorrow '...and bring a pen'. There's an annoying and unfunny running gag about a pawky and untalented young man who auditions as a bass singer, as a baritone, as a tenor ... until Cochran finally casts him in a non-speaking part so he won't show up at the audition for sopranos! I found all of the audition and rehearsal sequences in this film extremely unrealistic.
The problem with "She's Back on Broadway" is that its plot isn't gripping enough to succeed as straight drama, and its songs aren't tuneful enough for this to be more than a sub-average musical. All of the songs are dull and unmemorable. Gene Nelson never gets a chance to cut loose with the spectacular acrobatics he displayed in other films. (I still savour the incredible standing back salto he performed in 'Tea for Two', with its Olympic-class amplitude.) The 'best' song here (not saying much) is 'Breakfast in Bed', a tinkly little ditty performed by Mayo in a ludicrous costume. Steve Condos, formerly of the Condos Brothers, does a jazzy dance number that has him bojangling his way up and down a tiny plywood staircase.
SPOILERS??? COMING. We get a lot of turgid dialogue here about how everybody's career is at stake, and everybody is taking huge risks ... but it's absolutely no surprise at all that the Broadway show is (of course) a huge hit. "She's Back on Broadway" keeps threatening to be something much more substantial than just another let's-put-on-a-show story, but never lives up to the promise of that starkly dramatic first scene. This film is a pleasant time-passer with glimpses of greatness. I'll rate "She's Back on Broadway" 5 out of 10.