Meet the 21-year-old actress starring as the leading lady in ‘West Side Story’

Shereen Pimentel is already seeing her name in lights at just 21 years old.

The young actress, who was born in Manhattan and grew up in New Jersey, will be starring as the leading lady and star-crossed lover, Maria, in the Broadway revival of “West Side Story,” opposite Isaac Powel’s Tony.

Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know
Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know

Even from a very young age, Pimentel says she knew she was destined for the stage — and when she turned 9, she marked her Broadway debut as young Nala in “The Lion King.”

“I spent most of my life doing the arts,” she told In The Know. “I started as a dancer and then kind of switched over into being a singer when I played young Nala in ‘The Lion King.’ That was the first time that I said, ‘I want to be on Broadway.’ It was around nine, 10 years old that I decided that’s what I wanted to do for my life.”

As a budding talent, Pimentel began attending the pre-college program at the world-renowned Juilliard School in New York City during her sophomore year of high school.

She eventually transitioned into the private performing arts conservatory’s college program, where she focused on her incredible vocal skills.

“I really wanted to hone in on my voice,” she explained. “I wanted to make sure that I had that ability to be able to switch and do whatever kind of [Broadway] show I wanted to.”

“Performing on Broadway was always the goal at the end of the day,” she added.

Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know
Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know

Pimentel finally saw her dreams come true when she got a callback for Tony winner Ivo van Hove’s revival of “West Side Story,” which centers on two young lovers who are affiliated with rival gangs — the Jets, comprised of mostly white teens, and the Sharks, made up of Puerto Ricans.

“I got called in for the ensemble track, not directly for Maria the first time,” she recalled. “When I came back, they asked me to audition for the role of Maria. The creative team watched a tape of me and gave me the role. I was super excited.”

“It means a lot to play Maria,” Pimentel said of the character, whom she described as very strong-willed and determined. “It is a really exciting story to tell.”

Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know
Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know

Pimentel, who is half Puerto Rican, said that a lot of digging and cultural research went into ensuring she accurately portrayed the character.

“I wanted to make sure that it was something that felt authentic in its interpretation,” she explained. “I love being able to be the woman of color who plays Maria and being able to show women who are Hispanic that you don’t have to look one certain way to represent who you actually are.”

Now, Pimentel hopes she can serve as a beacon of hope that anything is possible for younger people looking to break into the industry.

“People ask, ‘How’d you get into it?’ Or, ‘How do you think I could?'” she said. “I like to encourage people to just continue trying. You throw stuff at a wall and just see what sticks. Keep throwing at the wall — at some point, it really will stick.”

If you liked this story, check out Serena Williams and her daughter’s adorable Disney dress-up hobby.

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