The Rep's preeminence in St. Louis theater is so long established that it's always tempting to cite another company as the year's best as a simple provocation, a break in a boringly long skein of victories. Last year, in fact, we chose to laud Opera Theatre of St. Louis, a world-class institution that shares the Rep's Loretto-Hilton Center space, and readers once narrowly picked the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, which perennially places second. Otherwise, since the inception of the "Best of St. Louis" in the late '80s, the Rep has prevailed. There's good reason for that: Although other companies excel in areas of specialization -- OTSL in mounting imaginative, gorgeously sung opera productions; the Black Rep in showcasing African-American theatrical talent; New Line in presenting small-scale, cutting-edge musicals -- the Rep serves as our generalist, offering a season of consistent quality that ranges from intimate drama (usually but not exclusively in the Studio Theatre) to comedy (this holiday season's The Royal Family
) to musicals (both new and old, as demonstrated by this year's choices of Gypsy
and Avenue X
) to revivals (last season's Inherit the Wind
) to recent Broadway award-winners (Wit
in 1999, Proof
in 2002) to classics (2000's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
) to world premieres (Lanford Wilson's Book of Days
in '99). Yes, the Rep has been accused of making insufficiently bold choices, and there's no doubt longtime artistic director Steven Woolf wants to ensure that less adventurous subscribers aren't alienated, but there's little pandering and, occasionally, real challenges: The upcoming King Lear
, for example, is certainly no crowd-pleaser, and the Rep's production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia
in 1997 was a cerebral astonishment. Such a good Rep clearly merits repeat wins.