Jonathan Bardey is 10. He wants to be a famous actor. And now, after three small parts in community theater productions, he has landed his first starring role.

Martha Lynch is 49. She does not aspire to fame. She is directing Jonathan in "Oliver!," a show she has done before and the latest among dozens she has directed since she became involved in Northern Virginia community theater 12 years ago.

The young star is as cool as a cucumber. The veteran director is as jittery as a groom 10 minutes before the ceremony because "Oliver!" is the inaugural production of FUN Theatre, Lynch's very own company. And she wants it to fly, for herself and the company's 100 or so children.

FUN Theatre, featuring 102 children and teenagers and 30 adults, is the only predominantly children's theater in Loudoun County and one of a handful in the region. Lynch started it late last summer because there were no shows featuring a large number of parts for youngsters in Northern Virginia's fall community theater season.

"You just know that there's a right time" to launch a project such as FUN Theatre, Lynch said. "So we just did it."

"Oliver!" opened Friday at J.L. Simpson Middle School in Leesburg and continued through the weekend. About 1,000 people attended the weekend performances. It runs again tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Lynch and her partners, her mother, Alice McCree, and Sterling resident Laura Frantz, picked "Oliver!" because they could cast every child who auditioned. The show, the musical version of Charles Dickens's classic "Oliver Twist," can accommodate an unlimited number of children to play orphans or pickpockets.

"I had talked to my staff ahead of time and told them I picked this show because I could cast everyone," Lynch said. "I've always tried, even if the show didn't call for kids, to use children somehow. This time, I was going to use all the kids I wanted."

She gets high marks for that from people such as Sal Buscema, a veteran community theater actor who plays Fagin, the crafty old gentleman who draws the ingenuous Oliver into a life of crime.

"She is . . . kind of a visionary," Buscema said. "She really believes that if you're going to get people interested in the arts, you have to start them young."

Lynch has directed many of the children in this show before, but working with 100 at a time can present some technical problems.

They have short attention spans. They need frequent bathroom breaks. And they require special instructions.

"DO NOT go near the tables with the makeup," Lynch told her cast at a dress rehearsal last week. "And as I think {school custodian} Charlie {Powell} told you, we would prefer that no one stood on them either."

Lynch said, "There are moments when you go, 'What did I do? I'm doing this for free?' " But she said the rewards far outnumber the pitfalls. She recalls her last production of "Oliver!," done for the Blue Ridge Alliance for the Performing Arts in the early 1980s.

"These kids from 'Oliver!' the last time, they all grew up and I was able to do a wonderful performance of 'West Side Story,' " she said. "I would say a good 15 of them are in college now majoring in theater of some type."

Whether Lynch has fostered another crop of theater majors remains to be seen. What's certain is that she has fostered dozens of little hams.

"Please, no autographs," said Allen Leddy, an 11-year-old from Leesburg, after belting out "Food, Glorious Food," the show's opening number.

"I've got the most hardest part," said 7-year-old Jeff Tiller, of Sterling, who is cast as a pickpocket in this, his first play. "I have to get under {Fagin's} coat and pick his pocket!"

And Matt Kerby, a fifth-grader at Cool Spring Elementary in Leesburg, thinks he's the best pickpocket. "We all go out, but I get most of the stuff," he said.

Lynch put FUN Theatre together in a few months with financial backing from her mother. The show will cost about $10,000, including about $4,000 to obtain a license and the rights to her new company, and to rent Simpson Middle School and pay for programs.

Because it's a new company, FUN Theatre's 100 staff members can't rely on the same kind of support as an established group, which choreographer Lisa Shermeyer calls "a blessing and a curse." So parents have filled the gap, helping to sew costumes, car-pooling children to rehearsals and selling tickets. Dress rehearsals have been packed with parents, who usually bring along their cameras or camcorders. And they clap and cheer, especially for solos such as "Where Is Love," which Jonathan sings sweetly and poignantly.

"I just sort of think how Oliver would be, and be Oliver, you know, how I think he would act," Jonathan said. "Mrs. Lynch teaches us that kind of stuff."