‘The Book of Mormon’ debuts at the Forrest Theatre this week

“The Book of Mormon” touring production comes to the Forrest Theatre July 29 for a seven-week engagement. / Joan Marcus

Coming from a Southern Baptist background, Stanley Wayne Mathis felt the need to warn some of his friends and family to stay away when he was cast in “The Book of Mormon,” which makes its Philadelphia debut tomorrow at the Forrest Theatre. “I told a few friends that I grew up with, ‘If you can’t deal with God and the F-bomb in the same sentence, this isn’t the show for you. Don’t come just to support me,’ Mathis says with a chuckle. “My sister still hasn’t seen the show.”

Mathis, who was in the Broadway version before joining the touring cast, admits to having his own initial reservations about signing on to sing what he calls “the most blasphemous song in the show” — despite finding the material hilarious. But he soon came to realize that there was more going on than simply potshots at religion — and he would know, having sampled quite a few of them over the years.

“I started out Southern Baptist,” Mathis says, “but I grew up in the projects in Washington, D.C., where there was no Baptist church at the time, so my mom had to send me to a Catholic church because she figured that any church was better than none. Then I had a period of Islam and when I got to New York I even had a period of Buddhism.”

“Book of Mormon” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who co-wrote the Tony-winning show with “Avenue Q” composer Robert Lopez, have a long history of wringing humor from the Mormon faith, first in their early film “Orgazmo” and later on an infamous episode of their long-running animated series “South Park.” But Mathis, who was a big fan of “South Park” long before ever working with its creators, insists that Mormonism is not a target here.

“It takes a hit at all organized religions and asks you to go back and reevaluate what your original goals were in the first place,” he says. “We can tend to get so far away from what those things were established for, but religion is not black and white; it’s got grey areas and a whole spectrum of colors. I like this show because it’s really smart and it has such heart to it. It’s not just shock value for shock value. It’s political satire and social commentary wrapped up into entertainment.”

See the show

Credit: Joan Marcus Credit: Joan Marcus

Tickets are still available for “The Book of Mormon”‘s seven-week run; the best availability is for the later dates.

If you want to press your luck, sign up for the lottery to try to get tickets for just $27 each. Two and a half hours before every performance, potential theatergoers can go to the box office and write their names on a card. Two hours before curtain, names will be randomly selected for the discounted tickets.

You can submit only one entry, and buy one or two tickets.

“The Book of Mormon”
July 29-Sept. 14
Forrest Theatre
1114 Walnut St.
$92-$162, 800-447-7400

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