Chapter 2 : Conception
Ragan Courtney, my Co-Bookwriter and Lyricist, is one of my lifelong friends.
We first met as students at The Neighborhood Playhouse School Of The Theater in NYC in the fall of 1966. At the time, The Neighborhood Playhouse was the finest acting school in the country because it was led by master teacher and one of the two fathers of American Method Acting, Sanford Meisner.
After two years of enormously life changing study, upon graduation, we both set out to become NY actors. Ragan and I also became roommates, living in Greenwich Village. My career as an actor had a fast start, but I soon realized that I preferred the creating part of the theater as a composer and lyricist to the acting part. Ragan bounced around for a couple of years and found his place in life as a published poet and writing and starring in major musical pageants for the Southern Baptist Church. He wrote, “Celebrate Life!” with his good friend Buryl Red that went on to sell over a million copies and be performed in countless venues throughout America. Consequently, he moved away from NYC and moved to Little Rock.
We then stayed good friends, but basically lost contact for 30 years or so. Ragan married one of Christian Music’s greatest stars, Cynthia Clawson, who is a truly gifted vocalist having received a Grammy and five Dove awards for her work as a songwriter, vocal artist and musician. Her career has spanned over 4 decades with 22 albums to her credit.
Together, they created their own hugely popular church in Austin, TX – Ragan, the Pastor and Cynthia, the Music Soloist and Musician.
During those 30 years I managed to work as a Composer/Lyricist and Record Producer in New York. If you want to know more about that, please visit
About 5 years ago, I had the urge to once again write for the theater, and among several ideas, I had an off-beat concept of Bible stories as a musical that I wanted to write. I needed a collaborator, a Bookwriter to work with and thought of Ragan and reached out to him.
Unbeknownst to me, he had died.
But gratefully, he had died and come back.
Just before we renewed our friendship, he had died of a heart attack on the operating table. When pronounced dead by the doctors and nurses gathered ‘round him, he left his body and floated up to the ceiling of the operating room and watched the doctors and nurses taking off their gloves and masks, and pulling the plugs from his lifeless body — beginning to clean up. He thought to himself excitedly, “Wow, I get to move on now to whatever comes next!” And flying across the room in the process of doing just that –
moving on – he heard one of the nurses say, “Wait just a moment, Doctor, I think we have a heartbeat.” At that, he thought to himself, “Well, I guess I better stay.” so he flew back into his body and came back to life.
He still had more to do here on Planet Earth.
Interview With Ragan Courtney
Ragan, nice to have you with us today. Your biggest hit show was called Celebrate Life. It’s interesting that you wrote that show before you left us only to come back and do more celebrating. Tell us a little more about the success of Celebrate Life.
Oh my gosh. It was done thousands of times around the world … I’ve gotten reports from Spain and from England and from South America … so it was a far-reaching successful story of the life of Christ. And so that was just a thing that imprinted in me the need to tell … I guess I would say, “the truth”, as best I could.
So we wrote our musical together, entitled Searching For My Father, and then began the process of trying to get it on. However, then came Covid. The chances of getting our musical on were obviously impossible, and so, we had enjoyed working together so much that we shelved “Searching For My Father” and said, “Let’s write another one!”
We began brainstorming the Bible for another tale to musicalize. At one point in our brainstorming, we began to talk about Joseph, the dad of Jesus, and how little there is written about him in the Bible. Somehow, in the Biblical tale, he just got left out, and yet he must have had an impact on the life of Jesus during those first relatively unknown 30 years of Jesus’ life.
As we brainstormed, one thing led to another, and then to another. I remember one day when Ragan and I were exploring how Joseph must have felt when Mary told him she was pregnant and that he was not the father. Whoa … Sounds like the sort of thing that could have easily happened just yesterday! Hey! … There’s an idea. What if we put this entire story into modern times?
How would it all play out then?
So, Rosemary and Thyme was born – well, not born, but certainly conceptualized.
We went to work writing.
They say there are only really seven basic plots. The fundamental basics of stories have been repeated over and over across time. Boy meets girl. At first they can’t stand each other. But we know that’s gonna change and so we’re fascinated to watch how their lives change so that they fall in love and live happily ever after. That’s one.
Or … Man wants to triumph, but there’s first a very difficult set of obstacles in the way. How does he surmount them and eventually win the day? Also … Man leaves home and travels across the world trying to get back home. The Ulysses tale. There’s 3 examples of the 7 plots.
About a half year into our work. Ragan had another heart attack. He again lived to tell about it, but it really took its toll. I wrote on and we met every Thursday night – me on the East coast and Ragan in Santa Fe where he and Cynthia had retired. He was a tremendous support over the next year and a half.
He’s here with us now to give you his own insights into the making of Rosemary and Thyme.
Ragan, looking back, tell us of some of your favorite moments of these past couple of years.
“Heh, my favorite moments about working on the show? Well, I think, to be honest, my favorite moments were laughing with Peter. We would get an idea and we’d play with it, and we’d laugh about it, we’d discuss it. Those were my favorite moments. And out of that – gosh, I don’t know whether I should say happiness, or joy, or whatever – but out of that, out of that is where our writing and our storytelling came from. And then the fact that it was telling us again, the story of Christmas, which I was so familiar with, of course (who isn’t?) … but it was just fun doing that. And that was, I think, my favorite thing … laughing and telling the story of Christmas in a new way.”
Ragan, the character of God that is portrayed by actor, Michael Tucker, is a very down to earth straight shooter, perhaps even more human than most people imagine God to be … Especially as a minister, how does your own personal viewpoint of God differ from the one we created in the play?
Wow. My own personal viewpoint of God … Well, I mean, I guess I could talk here for another hour or two, but basically, I don’t think it differs at all. I see God like the God that talks to Thyme in the work. That’s the way God talks to me. I remember one time recently telling God, confessing really, just talking to him and saying, “God, I don’t know — I gotta tell you this. You know it already, but I love my grandson more than you.” And I felt like God just started laughing and He said, “I know exactly what you mean.” And that’s the relationship I have with Him.
It’s intimate. It’s like if He’s love, then He’s Love. I’m not afraid you know, it’s just, that’s just the way I see God and that’s my sort of – oh God, help me–it’s my spiritual journey. So that’s it folks. Bada-bada-ba-da!
Ragan, now that our work is primarily finished, any regrets?
Well, one, I do have a big regret: I wish I could have spent time with Peter and Julia and the people in New York and New Jersey and worked with them, because you know, the pandemic and traveling by air (which I’d rather shoot myself in the head than do) … so I couldn’t be with them and that I regret, that we had to do it over the phone and over the computer … but other than that…