In Times Square in the 1980’s, the streets pulsate with life: garish topless bars, seedy transvestite joints, and hookers working the sidewalks at the bidding of their pimps (“Check It Out”). Jojo, an opportunistic, conniving white hustler in the thick of the action, has a bare-knuckled plan for feeding his ambition (“Use What You Got”). Sonja, a veteran hooker who has seen better days, has befriended Queen, who is on the street to support her man, Fleetwood, a displaced Vietnam veteran. Queen has saved her money; she and Sonja celebrate her plan to get away with Fleetwood and leave the life for good (“A Lovely Day to Get Out of Jail”). Returning to her hotel room, Queen discovers that Fleetwood has spent half of her savings to pay off his drug debts and feed his habit (“Oh, Daddy”).
Fleetwood dreams unrealistically of attaining power, money, and “A Piece of the Action,” but Jojo tells him he’ll never amount to anything as a pimp as long as he’s romantically involved with the woman he’s selling. At the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Jojo and Fleetwood find the seemingly naïve Mary, just off the bus from Minnesota.
In a prostitute hangout called Lacy’s Bar, Sonja relaxes with her sisters, bemoaning the wear and tear of “The Oldest Profession.” Fleetwood arrives with Mary, and Memphis, the “biggest businessman on the block,” zeroes in on the new girl (“Don’t Take Much”). Queen takes Mary to the room she shares with Fleetwood and urges her to “Go Home.”
Later, as prostitutes eye potential customers, a gospel group parades by (“You Can’t Get to Heaven”). The girls defiantly stand up for themselves (“My Body”), and the pimps complain about the harassment of the cops (“Why Don’t They Leave Us Alone?”)
Jojo convinces Mary to take a turn as a go-go dancer. A smashing success, she celebrates her good fortune with Fleetwood and Jojo (“Easy Money”) Jojo has her in mind for his “mentor” Lou, a gaudy Los Angeles producer of triple-X "motion pictures.”
Back in jail, Queen reflects on her attachment to Fleetwood (“He’s No Good”). Jojo and Fleetwood spend the night with Mary. As Fleetwood turns his attentions toward Mary, Memphis makes his move to put “Queen in his deck.” Queen discovers what’s been going on between Fleetwood and Mary, and decides she’s finally had enough (“I’m Leaving You”). As everyone parties at “The Hookers’ Ball”, Lou makes off with Mary, while Queen, shunning Fleetwood, attaches herself to Memphis.
Over a game of Three-Card Monte ("Step Right Up"), Jojo and the pimps acknowledge their silent partner, “Mr. Greed.” In Memphis’ spacious apartment, Queen thanks him for getting her out of jail and for the beautiful dress he gave her to wear to the Hookers’ Ball; but Memphis makes it very clear that the dress was a $6,000 loan that she must repay with her earnings (“My Way or the Highway”). He tells Queen if she and Fleetwood attempt to leave town, he’ll kill them both.
Queen tells Sonja that she must find Fleetwood and warn him about Memphis’ threat. She asks Jojo to tell Fleetwood to meet her the next morning at Lacy’s. Meanwhile Mary, with Lou, celebrates her potential movie career (“People Magazine”).
The next morning, Jojo double-crosses Queen and comes to Lacy’s with Memphis, who brutally beats her. When Fleetwood arrives, Queen reminds him of what they once had together (“We Had a Dream”). Fleetwood returns to his hotel and discovers Mary leaving for Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Queen, Sonja, and other girls share their disillusionment (“’Someday’ Is for Suckers”).
Later, that night, Sonja hands Queen a bus ticket and a suitcase, in a desperate attempt to get her away from Memphis. Fleetwood appears and urges Queen to make a new start (“We Gotta Go”), but Queen bitterly rejects him. Jojo and Memphis arrive and violence breaks out: Fleetwood pulls a gun on Memphis, but Jojo knocks the gun loose and Memphis mortally stabs Fleetwood; Queen seizes the fallen gun and shoots Memphis. Sonja decides to take the rap for killing Memphis, claiming self-defense. Sonja and Queen say good-bye (“My Friend”). Queen departs for the bus, which will carry her to freedom, as Sonja surrenders to the police. But even without Sonja and Queen, Jojo and the girls continues to hustle on the streets ("Check It Out" Reprise).