By People Staff
Updated July 16, 1984 12:00 PM

As he waited to go onstage for his headlining role in the Broadway hit The Tap Dance Kid one night, Alfonso Ribeiro heard loud screams in the theater. Looking nervously out into the audience as the curtain rose, he quickly spotted the cause of the commotion. “It took me two seconds,” he recalls. “Then I saw Michael Jackson sitting about 10 rows back.”

It is not every day that Jackson comes out of seclusion to brave crowds of shrieking admirers, but he made an exception to see 12-year-old Ribeiro’s fancy footwork. Nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for his performance in the musical about a young black who passionately wants to be a dancer, Ribeiro has just finished seven months in the lead role and was featured in the opening number of the recent Tony Awards telecast. He has also matched moves with Jackson in a recent Pepsi-Cola commercial. Since then Ribeiro has agreed to do an album for Prism Records and signed with NBC to co-star with Ricky Schroder next fall on the sitcom Silver Spoons.

The son of a lieutenant at Sing Sing prison and a nurse, Ribeiro had no formal training in dance—except for occasionally working with an aunt who is a professional dancer. Alfonso’s school sent him to the Tap Dance audition when the show’s casting agency called. The eighth grader at Junior High School 141 in the Bronx trained almost a year with choreographers before the production opened.

Between the show and schoolwork, Alfonso now has little free time to indulge his passion for stickball (“I’ve only had two games this year!”), but there are compensations. A few months ago Michael Jackson invited Ribeiro to spend an afternoon with him in L.A. After lunch and a tour of the Jackson compound, the two ended up in Michael’s video arcade room. “I beat him at a couple of games,” boasts Ribeiro, a veteran of many pizza parlor Pac-Man wars. “Then I thought, ‘It’s his house. I better let him win.’ ” In the presence of a prince, after all, one doesn’t want to be told, “Beat it, tap dance kid.”