Just 12 hours after weeping over the lifeless body of her onstage lover, Shereen Pimentel was back at Juilliard, studying French vocal literature.
It’s all in a day’s work for the multitasking Maria of Broadway’s new “West Side Story.” Now 21, she’s closing in on a Bachelor of Music degree while breaking hearts in director Ivo van Hove’s newly opened gritty revival.
“I have a whole calendar that lists everything I have to do that day and where I have to be,” Pimentel told The Post over a rare free hour and a cup of tea. “There’s just so much that goes on now, there’s no way I can keep it in my head!”
Luckily, she loves what she does. While she hasn’t personally experienced the perils of star-crossed love, this daughter of Jamaican and Puerto Rican parents calls herself “a huge romantic.”
“That’s what I really love about Maria,” the Upper West Sider says. “You get to fall in love every night, over and over again.”
“West Side Story,” with its glorious score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, is Pimentel’s second Broadway show. She made her debut at age 9 as Young Nala in “The Lion King,” which she had seen several months before. She vividly remembers getting into the car for the trip back home to Teaneck, NJ, and declaring, “I want to do that!”
Her parents — a now-retired Verizon manager and a property manager — were supportive. When she started dance classes at 3 and dreamed of being a ballerina, they took her to see Misty Copeland at ABT. Later, when she started to sing, they took her to Broadway. When she found a Disney.com call for open auditions for “The Lion King,” her dad drove into the city in the wee hours to save her a place in the line that stretched around the block, so Shereen could sleep in.
That was when she first learned to juggle school and work. It was also the year she saw “West Side Story” — the 2009 Broadway revival, with Spanish translations by a pre-“Hamilton” Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“I thought I’d love to play Maria one day,” she said, “but I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
Last June, she auditioned for a standby slot in this new revival. She sang “I Feel Pretty” — a number that was since cut — before hopping on a plane for Europe, where she and the rest of Juilliard’s opera company were performing “Dido and Aeneas.” When she arrived in Paris, her agent called: Pimentel had been asked to audition for Maria. A month later, the role was hers. But as she soon discovered, falling in love with Tony night after night, only to lose him, is quite an emotional roller-coaster — even when you’re pretending.
“Sometimes I walk offstage, completely sobbing,” she confessed. “I have to tell myself, ‘It’s a story. That’s not me.’ ”
She’s grateful that her Tony is Isaac Powell, with whom she has developed a warm friendship. “We’ll find moments in songs that are different, and we laugh a lot,” she said.
That they end up soaking wet at every performance — thanks to a steady onstage downpour — hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm. In real life, the single Pimentel said she is “too busy” to be in a relationship.
She’ll graduate from Juilliard this spring with a degree in vocal performance — which, Pimentel said, has prepared her to “sing anything they throw at me.”
She’s also buoyed by the love she gets from fans at the stage door each night.
“It’s a big deal for me,” said Pimentel, who is often greeted by Latinas thrilled to see a Puerto Rican woman playing Maria. “I will sign your Playbill and I will take a photo with you, because I remember
being that kid who’d wait for the entire cast!”
Indeed, she says, she cherishes the photo she has of herself with Misty Copeland and a “Lady Day” poster signed by Audra McDonald.
“I don’t know if I’d be where I am now,” she said, “if I didn’t have people to look up to.”