Songwriter Jack Morell—a reference to Village People creator Jacques Morali—gets a break DJing at local disco Saddle Tramps. His roommate, Samantha “Sam” Simpson, is a supermodel newly retired at the peak of her success. She sees the response to a song that he wrote for her (“Samantha”) and agrees to use her connections to get him a record deal. Her connection is her ex-boyfriend Steve Waits, president of Marrakech Records—a reference to Village People record label Casablanca Records—who is more interested in rekindling their romantic relationship than in Jack’s music (and more interested in taking business calls than in wooing Samantha), but agrees to listen to a demo.
Sam decides that Jack’s vocals are not adequate, so she recruits neighbor and Saddle Tramps waiter/go-go boy Felipe Rose (the Indian), fellow model David “Scar” Hodo (the construction worker, who daydreams of stardom in the solo number “I Love You to Death”), and finds Randy Jones (the cowboy) on the streets of Greenwich Village, offering dinner in return for their participation. Meanwhile, Sam’s former agent, Sydney Channing, orders Girl Friday Lulu Brecht to attend, hoping to lure back the star. Ron White, a lawyer from St. Louis, is mugged by an elderly woman on his way to deliver a cake that Sam’s sister sent and arrives disconcerted. Brecht gives Jack drugs, which unnerves him when her friend Alicia Edwards brings singing cop Ray Simpson (the policeman), but Jack records the quartet on “Magic Night”. Ron, pawed all night by the man-hungry Brecht, is overwhelmed by the culture shock of it all and leaves.
The next day, Sam runs into Ron, who apologizes, proffers the excuse that he is a Gemini and follows her home. Spilling leftover lasagna on himself, Sam and Jack help him remove his trousers before Jack leaves and Sam and Ron spend the night. Newly interested in helping, Ron offers his Wall Street office to hold auditions. There, Glenn M. Hughes (the leatherman), climbs atop a piano for a rendition of “Danny Boy”, and he and Alex Briley (the G.I.) join the group, now a sextet. They get their name from an offhand remark by Ron’s socialite mother Norma. Ron’s boss, Richard Montgomery, overwhelmed by the carnival atmosphere, insists that the firm not represent the group, and Ron quits.
Ron’s new idea for rehearsal space is the YMCA (the ensuing production number “YMCA” features its athletic denizens in various states of undress; the film is one of the few non-R-rated offerings to feature full-frontal male nudity). The group cuts a demo (“Liberation”) for Marrakech, but Steve sees limited appeal and Sam refuses his paltry contract. Reluctant to use her savings, they decide to self-finance by throwing a pay-party.
To bankroll the party, Sam acquiesces to Channing’s plea to return for a TV advertising campaign for milk, on the condition that the Village People are featured. The lavish number “Milkshake” begins as Sam pours milk for six little boys in the archetypal costumes with the promise that they will grow up to be the Village People. The advertisers want nothing to do with such a concept, and refuse to broadcast the spot. Norma then steps in to invite the group to debut at her charity fundraiser in San Francisco. Sam lures Steve by promising a romantic weekend, but Ron is taken aback by the inference that she would go through with the seduction, and Sam ends their romantic relationship. On his private jet, Steve prepares for a tryst, but rather Jack and his former chorine mother Helen arrive to negotiate a contract. Initially reluctant, Helen wins over Steve with her kreplach, and before long they are negotiating the T-shirt merchandising for the Japanese market.
In the dressing room before the show, Ron, relieved to learn that Sam did not travel with Steve, proposes to her. At one point, Montgomery appears, seeking to rehire Ron as a junior partner representing the group. Following a set by The Ritchie Family (“Give Me a Break”), the Village People make a triumphant debut (“Can’t Stop the Music”).